Here’s what you can expect from Macy’s ‘reimagined’ Thanksgiving parade

November 11, 2020

Photo courtesy of Macy’s, Inc.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has been a New York City tradition since 1924. In modern times, the event draws a live crowd of roughly 3.5 million and is made up of 8,000 participants, including performers, marching bands, dancers, and more. But those large numbers of people mean that this year’s pandemic-era parade will look a bit different. Macy’s announced in September that its 94th annual parade will be a television-only presentation with participant capacity reduced by 75 percent, a two-day staging, and balloons being flown by vehicles instead of the usual 80- to 100-person teams that corral each balloon. A New York Times feature today shared the happy news that actors from four shuttered Broadway shows will be performing.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has only been cancelled three times in its 96-year history. This was due to helium shortages during World War II in 1942, 1943, and 1944.

Mayor de Blasio first announced that the Thanksgiving Day Parade would likely be virtual at the end of August. “It’s not going to look at all, of course, like what we are used to. But the important thing is that traditions will be kept in some way,” he said at the time.

Macy’s and the mayor similarly reimagined the July 4th fireworks display this year. It consisted of smaller displays across the city spread out over three days.

According to a press release from Macy’s, the health and wellness changes that will be implemented this year include:

  • Reducing the overall number of participants by approximately 75%, and splitting the remaining participants over two days
  • All participants will be appropriately socially distanced during performances and be required to wear face coverings and additional personal protective equipment depending on their role
  • Shifting to a television-broadcast-only production with staging for Parade elements focused solely in/ around the Herald Square area of Midtown Manhattan
  • The traditional 2.5-mile Parade route will not be utilized this year
  • Any participant in the Parade must be at least 18 years of age and from the tri-state area
  • Previously selected regional High School and College Marching Bands performances will be deferred to the 2021 Macy’s Parade, with locally-based professional marching and musical ensembles taking musical duties in the lineup
  • Macy’s signature giant character balloons will be flown without the traditional 80-100 handlers and instead employ an innovative, specially rigged anchor vehicle framework of five specialty vehicles tested and approved by the NYCDOT and NYPD

In an interview with, Susan Tercero, executive producer of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, said she doesn’t expect the televised viewing experience to be much different this year. “They’re still going to see the balloons. They’re still going to see the floats. They’re still going to see Santa and Broadway and all of these elements that they’re used to seeing every single year. They’re still going to see those things. They might have some differences in that we’re going to see some social distancing. We’re going to have masks, things like that. But it’s still going to be the parade they know and love.”

The Broadway performances will be filmed in advance and aired on Thanksgiving day as part of the parade festivities. According to Time Out, they are:

  • Hamilton: 18 cast members (including Joshua Henry as Burr and Jennie Harney and Krystal Joy Brown as Anjelica and Eliza) performing “The Schuyler Sisters”
  • Mean GirlsReneé Rapp, playing Regina George, will perform “Someone Gets Hurt”
  • Jagged Little Pill: 12 cast members (including Elizabeth Stanley, Celia Rose Gooding, Derek Klena, Sean Allan Krill, Lauren Patten, and Kathryn Gallagher) will perform “You Learn”
  • Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations: The five main cast members (Nik Walker, James Harkness, Jawan M. Jackson, Matt Manuel, and Jelani Remy) will perform a medley of “My Girl” and “Get Ready”

The performances become tricky considering Broadway has been dark since March and any rehearsals need to take current social distancing and health measures into account. For example, “Ain’t Too Proud” choreographer Sergio Trujillo created a new work with just five performers that keeps them at a safe distance throughout the performance. After speaking with Trujillo, the Times reported that “Anyone involved in the performance receives coronavirus tests and temperature checks before convening, and everyone will wear masks on the set, though the performers will be able to remove them to sing.”

Other celebrities who will make appearances or perform are: Lauren Alaina, Jimmie Allen and Noah Cyrus, Ally Brooke, Sofia Carson, CNCO, Jimmy Fallon and The Roots (opening the show), Karol G, Tori Kelly, Patti LaBelle, Ella Mai, Matthew Morrison, Miss America 2020 Camille Schrier, the cast and Muppets of Sesame Street, Leslie Odom Jr., Keke Palmer, Dolly Parton, Pentatonix, Bebe Rexha, Jordin Sparks, Sebastián Yatra, and Brett Young.

Another gracious change the parade is making is to include performers who were unable to take part in the cancelled St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Pride March, National Puerto Rican Day Parade, the Coney Island Mermaid Parade, and the West Indian American Day Carnival Association.

There will be additional performances from The Big Apple Circus, The NYPD Police Band, The West Point Marching Band, and the step skills of Zeta Phi Beta.

Despite so many changes, Macy’s is still debuting several new attractions. Red Titan from “Ryan’s World” will be the first Youtube-inspired giant balloon, beloved “frenemies” Tom and Jerry will be featured in a “zany animatronic float,” and the Lifetime network will celebrate its popular roster of holiday movies with a “Christmas in Town Square” float.

In addition to the parade, a major spectacle is the Giant Balloon Inflation that takes place the night before on the Upper West Side. Last year, about one million people attended the event during its seven-hour window, but this year, the event will not take place.

The television broadcast will air nationwide on NBC on Thursday, November 26 from 9:00 a.m. to noon, in all time zones. It will be hosted by Savannah Guthrie, Hoda Kotb, and Al Roker. The Macy’s parade typically draws about 50 million television viewers.


Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on August 21, 2020, and has been updated with new information.

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