Thanks to NBC, I had the opportunity to be a part of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon inflation tonight. It rained a bit near the end, but nothing could put a damper on this special time. The participating bloggers received a special “behind the barriers” tour. It was all the more special because one of my favorite blogging friends Isabel (and her adorable son) was a part of the group. Her enthusiasm was contagious. Anyway, this has to be one of my top 10 “work” experiences of 2009. It really was a unique opportunity, because the whole event is very controlled and secure. (i.e. one of the little boys in the crowd asked his parents, “Why do THEY get to be so close?”) In any event, this was one more thing to add to my “thankful” list. Thanks, NBC.
1. The balloons that take part in each year’s parade are a representation of the year’s popular culture. It is expected that viewers will know who/what the balloon represents on first glance. I asked if companies buy their balloons way into the parade. The answer: participating companies were either approached by OR approached Macy’s. There are costs that the outside companies cover BUT Macy’s doesn’t just accept every company that expresses an interest. The parade is family friendly, so they don’t accept any sponsors that are not kid-friendly (i.e. no alcohol, cigarette or “too adult” focused companies).
2. The balloons in the parade are tiered. Some people walk around with balloon head. Then there are small balloons. Lastly, there are giant balloons. This year’s giant balloons include 2 Spiderman balloons, Ronald McDonald, the Pillsbury Dough Boy and Sailor Mickey.
3. The giant balloons usually take 1 ½ hour to inflate while the smaller ones only take 20 minutes.
4. Sponge Bob is the only square balloon in this year’s parade. Because of the shape, it takes 600 lines to guide it. (Other rounded balloons only take 10-15 lines.)
5. Each balloon has built-in chambers. That way, if a portion of the balloon pops, the staff can fix is as necessary. Meanwhile, the balloon would still be able to fly.
6. The balloon handlers are trained. Each balloon is controlled by a team led by a flight management team. Combined, they usually have at least 15 years experience. The management team guides the balloons and tells the handlers what to do. I asked about safety measures in addition to training. They remove obstacles from the paths of the balloons; keep the crowds at a distance and fly (high or low) based on the winds of the parade day.
7. The parade was started by Macy employees. Even today, only Macy’s employees and those sponsored by Macy’s employees (their family and friends) are allowed to participate in the parade. (Side note: We joked with Orlando, our guide, that he could sponsor us next year since he was a Macy’s employee.)
8. This is the 83rd year of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It started in 1924. However, during World War II, the parade was canceled for 3 years. During those years, the rubber for the balloons was donated towards the war effort.
9. There are big numbers when it comes to the parade. Over 8,000 volunteers work to make it happen. There are 10,000 people in the parade, including 11 bands from across the country. Approximately 700,000 people come to view the Balloon Inflation from noon to 10 pm on Thanksgiving Eve and there are over 3 million people (on the street alone) for the actual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
10. Rosa, a Macy’s employee for 70 years, will help Robin Hall, Director of the parade, in this year’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. This year is also of special note because it will be taking place along a new route. To find the full details of this year’s parade, please visit the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade site.