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America’s Big Parades -- The Rose Parade and the Thanksgiving Day Parade

Updated on September 26, 2018
TeriSilver profile image

Teri Silver is a journalist, commercial copywriter, editor, broadcast anchor, and Public Relations Specialist.

A Flowery Jungle
A Flowery Jungle | Source

Parade Time!

What is Thanksgiving without the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City? What is New Year’s Day without the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California?

Parade Days are annual traditions; many Americans attend the Thanksgiving and New Year's Day parades while millions of people watch the festivities on television. But Parade Day isn’t just about one day; it is the culmination of time, organization, expense, materials, promotion and volunteerism that bring it all together.

And if you want to go ... if you want to participate ... if you want to be a part of it all ... what ARE we talking about here?

East Coast Folly

New York Skyline
New York Skyline | Source

Thanksgiving Day Parade: New York City

Parade History

The first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was organized by store employees in 1924; featuring costumes, floats, marching bands and animals from the Central Park Zoo. The parade, to kick off the holiday season, began at the corner of 145th street and Convent Avenue in New York City. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has evolved over the years to include figures of pop-culture, novelty cartoon-character helium balloons (beginning in 1927) and various types of entertainment from New York (the Rockettes, for example) and other states around the nation.

From 1942 to 1944, the parade was put on hold as the nation fought in World War II. Rubber balloons were deflated and donated to the government for the war effort. In 1946, the parade route in Manhattan was changed to its current starting point, (77th and Central Park West); ending at 34th street and 7th Avenue. About two-million people watched it live that year and others saw the first local broadcast of the parade on television. In 1947, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was televised nationally.

New York City's world-famous Rockettes ... Up,  and ...
New York City's world-famous Rockettes ... Up, and ...

Balloons, Floats and Entertainment

Floats! Balloons! Materials vary depending on the floats or balloons used, but the process begins in an enormous factory-turned-Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade studio. The floats are built in the studio and then transported through the Lincoln Tunnel to be re-assembled for the parade.

Balloons are inflated the day before the parade; on 77th and 81st streets between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue. The public is invited (typically from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m.) to watch the balloons being inflated.

In addition to floats and balloons, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade features high school and college marching bands, performance groups, acrobats and a variety of other entertainment acts. Macy’s has its own “Clown University” to train the hundreds of people who don the greasepaint, floppy shoes and red noses before they set foot in the parade. More than 8,000 people participate in the march, including television, film, theater and music industry celebrities. Of course, Santa Claus makes a special appearance at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade festivities.

Tom the Turkey
Tom the Turkey | Source
Flying Smurf!!!
Flying Smurf!!! | Source

West Coast Folly

Everything's Coming Up Roses!
Everything's Coming Up Roses!

New Year’s Day Tournament of Roses Parade: Pasadena, California

Festival and Parade History

In 1890, members of Pasadena’s Valley Hunt Club developed a mid-winter festival to promote the warmth of the California sun and the west coast’s pleasant climate. Because of the abundance of flowers and fruits available, a parade was added to the festival’s activities, and, over time, marching bands and motorized floats were featured in the parade. In 1895, the Tournament of Roses organization was formed to take over the production of the festival.


In 1902, the first post-season college football game was played between Stanford University and the University of Michigan (Michigan led 49 to 0 before Stanford ended the game in the 3rd quarter).

The game’s lopsided score prompted parade officials to seek other forms of entertainment for the festival; Roman-like chariot races, for example. But in 1916, football was again the spectacle to see on New Year’s Day and it wasn’t long before city leaders decided to build a new stadium. The first Rose Bowl, now called the Granddaddy of Them All, took place in 1923.

Floating in the Tournament of Roses Parade
Floating in the Tournament of Roses Parade

Tournament of Roses: Parade

The Tournament of Roses parade is traditionally held on January first, but in 1893, New Year’s Day fell on a Sunday; parade directors were concerned about it interfering with church services. The solution was to move Parade Day and the Rose Bowl to the following Monday, a practice still done today.

The Tournament of Roses Parade lasts roughly two hours -- the number of floats, bands and other participating acts varies each year. Typically, the five and-a-half-mile route has nearly 50 floats, more than two-dozen marching bands, two-dozen horseback riders and other equestrian acts. The “Rose Court” (with the “Rose Queen” and her princesses) is prominently featured, as well as the Tournament of Roses Parade’s Grand Marshal, the organization’s president, and the mayor of Pasadena.

Getting ready ...
Getting ready ... | Source
 -- the Big Ten rocks!!!
-- the Big Ten rocks!!!

Tournament of Roses: Parade Floats

Tournament of Roses parade applications are reviewed more than a year in advance. Floats can be self-propelled or driven by vehicles or animals. Requirements include specifications for height, width and length; the entire surface must be covered with natural materials (such as flowers, seeds, bark, nuts, vegetables, stems and leaves)

Over the parade’s 100-plus year history, the float-building process has changed dramatically. In the beginning, community volunteers created simply-designed structures. But today, parade floats are “big business;” sponsored and built by corporations. These companies, in their efforts to promote services and products, spend millions of dollars on the whole production.

The float-building process begins as soon as the previous year’s parade is over; starting with plan blueprints. A framework of steel and chicken wire is structured on a specially-designed chassis that may include special effects and computerized animation. During the week between Christmas and New Year’s, fresh flowers, petals and other natural materials are applied to the float. To keep them from wilting, single flowers are placed in thin containers of water. Rose Parade officials say “each float is decorated with more flowers than the average florist will use in five years.”

Tournament of Roses: Parade Bands and Equestrians

The Monrovia Town Band of Pasadena, California, was the first marching band to participate in the Tournament of Roses parade (1891). The band had fewer than 20 members in it back then, compared to the marching bands of today which have as many as 250 members. Rose parade officials say more than 50 bands now compete for 16 openings every year. Marching bands must pay their own transportation and accommodations costs; they are chosen 14 months in advance.

Horses, horses, horses! The Tournament of Roses Parade features more than 300 horses and their riders, with a variety of breeds. Like the marching bands, horse owners and their mounts are chosen far in advance so that the groups can raise the money for their trip to Pasadena.

Want to Go?

If you want to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City or the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California ...


Thanksgiving Day Parade

Make your hotel accommodations well in advance of Thanksgiving Day; there are a number of resources available online to assist you in planning your trip to New York City.

At the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, there are some private viewing grandstands, however, they are not available for public use. The general public has free access along the route of the parade, including on the east side of Central Park West (from 59th Street to 75th Street). Parade organizers say the west side of the street (Central Park West) is a good place to view the parade, which begins at 9:00 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day (people start lining the streets at about 7:00 a.m.).

Because of the large numbers of spectators, folding chairs are not allowed. The parade takes place rain or shine and it does get cold in Manhattan in November! Dress in layers and bring rain ponchos for inclement weather.

Want your local high school or college band to march in the parade? Don't count on it this year but do plan ahead for next year. To participate in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (performance groups, marching bands), check out the application process.

Tournament of Roses Parade

Grandstand tickets with assigned seats for the parade are available for purchase (at face value) from February 1st through December 31st through the Sharp Seating Company (626-795-4171).

To sit in the grandstand, you must have a ticket. Children age two and younger may sit on an adult’s lap; but if the child sits on a grandstand seat, he or she will need a ticket. Curbside viewing for the Tournament of Roses Parade is available for those who get there early enough; you can stake out a place along the parade route as early as noon the day before. For information about curbside viewing, contact the Pasadena Police Department.

Hotel accommodations can be hard to come by -- make them well in advance of New Year’s Day! Visit the Pasadena Convention and Visitor's Bureau for more information.

Inside, looking out ...
Inside, looking out ...

The Parade is Coming, the Parade is Coming!

Whether you are watching live or on television, the holiday season is Parade Season! In New York, at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, you'll see balloons flying, floats floating, singers singing, marchers marching and dancers dancing. On New Year's Day in Pasadena, the horses are prancing, the bands are playing and the floats are a-dazzle with flowers and greenery.

Celebrate Thanksgiving and New Year’s in style -- see the parade!

© 2014 Teri Silver


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