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10 Helium Filled Facts About the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Macy's

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is one of the most iconic Thanksgiving Day traditions behind football, overeating, and self-loathing. Here are ten facts you probably didn’t know about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade!

1. The first parade was started by European immigrants

In the 1920s, many of Macy’s employees were first-generation European immigrants. They decided to celebrate their new-found American heritage with the type of European festival their parents would have enjoyed and the parade was originally meant to celebrate Christmas.

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2. It’s not the oldest Thanksgiving Day parade in America

It’s actually the second oldest parade tied with America’s Thanksgiving Parade in Detroit. Both parades are four years younger than the 6abc Dunkin’ Donuts Thanksgiving Day Parade in Philadelphia, which started in 1920.

3. The parade didn’t always feature the iconic balloons

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Macy's

Originally the parade only consisted of floats, professional bands (none of the high school stuff), and live animals that were borrowed from the Central Park Zoo including camels, donkeys, goats, and elephants. For 1925 and 1926, bears, lions, and tigers were added to the parade, but they had to stop this practice because it predictably scared the hell out of children. In 1927, animal shaped balloons replaced the live animals when the Felix the Cat balloon made its debut.

4. You won a prize if you found a balloon

Originally balloons were just released into the air after the parade was over. They had address labels sewn into them, so that whoever found the balloons could mail them back to Macy’s in exchange for a gift. Personally, we’d rather just have the balloon.

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5. There have been a few accidents over the years

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Felix the Cat, Macy's

There have been 24 balloon related accidents since 1927, but the first incident came the very first year balloons were introduced to the parade. In 1927, the Felix The Cat balloon got tangled in telephone wires and caught fire. The next year, helium was used to fill the balloons, because you know, flammability.

6. The parade uses a ton of helium

Speaking of helium, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is the world’s second largest consumer of helium (after the United States government).

7. Macy’s pitched in during WWII

The parade was temporarily suspended during WWII because the helium and rubber from the balloons were needed for the war effort.

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8. The parade owes it success to a movie

Miracle on 34th Street, Edmund Gwenn, 20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox via Everett

The parade reached national exposure after it was featured in the 1947 Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street. The following year, the parade was broadcast on national television for the first time and today, more than 44 million people watch the parade every year.

9. There are viewing locations you should avoid

Parade experts encourage spectators to avoid Columbus Circle. Due to the high winds, the balloons race through this area.

10. The parade boasts some impressive numbers

In its 77-year history, more than 300,000 Macy’s employees have participated in the parade including more than 50,000 clowns. The most famous type of balloon requires exactly 90 handlers and floats can cost anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000 to build.

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