Conventional wisdom says the first Thanksgiving took place in 1621 at the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts (also, the birthplace of the Native American dish called “sukahtash”). Although, there were earlier Fall harvest festivals dating back to the 1500s in Florida, near Jacksonville and St. Augustine. Conventional wisdom also holds that Thanksgiving doesn’t really get started until the parade kicks off, with Santa Claus on the last float, and the football games beginning to compete with a BIG family dinner. Hopefully, you’re lucky enough to live near a great parade route, or perhaps even travel to a city that has one. Here’s a rundown on some of the finest Thanksgiving parades in the land.
It all started in 1924 as a parade of puppets and marionettes staged for Macy’s, the “biggest store in the land.” First, they added live animals, like lions and tigers, which scared the crowds, then introduced balloons filled with helium, so that everyone could see better. You can get the whole story in the kid’s book Balloons Over Broadway. To get you even more in the NYC-Thanksgiving mood, check out the original Miracle on 34th Street movie with Maureen O’Hara and a young Natalie Wood, or the John Hughes’ remake in 2009.
Today, the parade sets off bright and early Thursday morning at 9 AM at 77th going all the way down Broadway to 34th. Basically, if you can think of anything that moves, you’ll see it in the parade, including giant helium balloons from action figures to cultural favorites like Ronald McDonald and Sponge Bob Squarepants.
Officially, they say 25 floats, and no one knows how many marching bands, not to mention the world famous Rockettes. Celebrities will be plentiful on the route, as well as on TV. Mariah Carey sang last year. For Macy’s, it’s really the official start of the Holiday shopping season. So, relax and enjoy it, before the bills start marching in.
The plans are even bigger this year. For the full menu of events, look here: https://www.macys.com/s/parade/.
Where else but on Ben Franklin Parkway would you expect to find Philadelphia’s Thanksgiving Celebration? Actually, it’s the oldest such parade in the country. After all, wasn’t it Ben Franklin who lobbied heartily for the “turkey” to be our national bird instead of the eagle? As a side point, the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Parade was originally sponsored by Gimbels, a Macy competitor.
The parade runs for 1.4 miles, so there are plenty of spots to catch it. For some reason, parking meters are free that day in town, so good luck finding a space close to the action.
This year, you’ll find some local heroes cruising by. Philly takes pride in their stars from Abbott Elementary (Quinta Brunson) and sports teams, like the mascot Swoop from the Eagles. After the good run this past baseball season, there’ll surely be some Phillies to see. School choirs, auto clubs, marching bands, student dance troupes, even the U.S. Postal Service, plus Smokey Robinson, Blue Man Group, and more.
Actually, the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Parade never stops — there are Holiday activities all around City Hall following the parade. Ben would be proud!
See all the Philly celebration plans right here: https://guidetophilly.com/philly-thanksgiving-parade/.
Not to be out done by the oldest or the largest, Chicago boasts the #2 Rated Thanksgiving Parade in the U.S., according to Time Out magazine. And besides, it starts at 8 AM (CT) and runs for 3 hours!
This year, the helium balloons are back! Kermit the Frog, the Grinch, Cookie Monster. For a special treat, you can catch the balloons make a “balloon limbo” underneath the Chicago “L” tracks on the south end of the Loop.
A big feature of the Chicago Thanksgiving Parade is the cultural diversity of the city. From African and Assyrian to Taiwanese and Ukranian, you’ll find floats, marchers, costumed signers and dancers. Local TV celebrities will join in, too.
For 2023, the Windy City will be opening its heart to the Texas State University Strutters dance team and the Tennessee State University marching band, the “Aristocrat of Bands.” Chicago even has its own movie to help get you rolling, Love at the Thanksgiving Parade, a Hallmark original where the parade planner falls in love with her boss.
Here’s the latest info on all the Chicago Holiday action: https://www.chicagothanksgivingparade.com/.
Now in its 39th year, St. Louis hosts the Ameren Thanks-for-Giving Parade that enables people to make contributions to replenish local food banks for the season. Past Honorary Grand Marshalls have been Jackie Joyner Kersey and the Harlem Globetrotters.
The parade also servers as a major marching bands competition, with awards going to the Top 5 — so you can plan on seeing quite a few majorettes and batons twirling. Near the parade starting site sits Winterfest—a city celebration. The parade ends in Washington Square Park, one of the finest city parks there is. This year, they expect over 120 different parade units with floats, balloons, dancing groups and drum lines, not to mention a high-flying Santa.
You’ll find the full list of St. Louis Holiday activities here: https://holidaysinstl.com/thanksgiving-day-parade/.
And now for something a little different: the Novant Health Thanksgiving Eve Parade kicks off at 5:30 PM on Wednesday, November 22. That’s right, it’s the day before Thanksgiving and it runs at night.
Charlotte started this evening tradition a few years ago and everyone loved it. So they’re back again, with the biggest Thanksgiving parade in the Southeast. The parade is free, but there’s a VIP viewing section that requires tickets.
At least 14 marching bands and 6 dance groups will appear amid all the balloons, puppets and local celebrities. There’s even a pre-parade Santa’s workshop for the families with believers, for a fee. For the latest schedule of events, check here https://www.novanthealththanksgivingparade.com/.
Oops! When Macy’s closed their flagship store in downtown Seattle last year, they took their annual Thanksgiving parade with them. So this year, there are alternative Fall/Winter celebrations to pursue with the Seattle Center Winterfest beginning November 24 for 5 weeks. It features a European shopping mart and under sparkling lights with a Winter Train and Village.
There’s also a Christmas Ship Festival with cruises around Puget Sound viewing all the Holiday lighting in the surrounding communities plus New Year’s Eve at the Space Needle. But, alas, no Thanksgiving parade. Which is probably why the nearby 300-member Mercer Island High School Marching Band is going to New York for the Macy’s parade there.
You’ll find all the Seattle area Holiday activities here:
With the Astros out of this year’s World Series, there’s still cause for celebration in Houston this Thanksgiving with the annual H-E-B Thanksgiving Parade. Joining the mayor will be former sports super stars froim the Houston Rockets basketball team. The parade route is a bit different, basically a rectangle around the downtown area, so you’ll have multiply spots for catching the scene.
This year, besides the many colorful floats and balloons, you’ll hear and see the Ocean of Soul Band, the Apache Belles dancing troupe, the Escaramuza Rebeldes horse riders, and the Native American Alliance. All marching by. By the way, the super grocery store sponsor, H-E-B, is named for the founder’s son, Howard E. Butt. Be thankful.
For up-to-the-minute H-E-B parade news, follow here: https://www.houstontx.gov/thanksgivingparade/.