Thanksgiving: an American holiday on the fourth Thursday of November, features people lining the streets of major cities to watch marching bands, grinning clowns and enormous floats inaugurate the festive holiday season leading up to Christmas. The walking parties burst with hometown pride – you might spot the city’s beauty pageant queen, a local sports star, an American Idol winner or other heroes. And in nearly every case, Santa Claus and his elves bring up the rear. Here’s our picks for the best in the nation:

SpongeBob SquarePants giant balloon floats at 92nd Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on the streets of Manhattan in frigid weather.
SpongeBob Squarepants floats above Manhattan in balloon form during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade © Lev Radin / Pacific Press / LightRocket via Getty Images

New York: Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

More than 3.5 million people line the route to watch this event, which is by far the largest – and one of the oldest – Thanksgiving parades in America. It’s also a fixture in homes across the country, as it’s broadcast live nationwide, with more than 50 million tuning in. The main draw, along with all the usual marching bands, floats and about a thousand clowns, is the giant balloons in the shapes of cartoon characters: Bullwinkle, for instance, and SpongeBob SquarePants bob along the avenue next to Central Park, well above the tree line. To get a good spot for viewing – at Columbus Circle, for instance, where the parade turns east briefly – you need to be in place by about 7am. If you don’t want to get up so early, go visit the balloons as they’re inflated the day before. Just show up any time after 3pm around 79th Street and Columbus Avenue.

Where: from 77th St & Central Park West to Herald Sq (Broadway & 34th St), via Sixth Ave
When: 9am; November 28, 2019
More infoMacy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

Townspeople dressed as pilgrims ride on a float during the annual Thanksgiving Parade in Plymouth, Massachusetts
Townspeople dressed as pilgrims ride on a float during the annual Thanksgiving Parade in Plymouth, Massachusetts © Michael Springer / Getty Images

Plymouth, Massachusetts: America’s Hometown Thanksgiving

The first Thanksgiving meal is said to have taken place in Plymouth, in 1621, so it’s fitting that the small town hosts the most historic parade. Floats representing key elements of America’s story, from the arrival of the Pilgrims’ Mayflower ship, up to more present-day explorations (a NASA float, for instance), promenade chronologically along Main Street. Note that, unlike the other parades, this one takes place the Saturday before Thanksgiving.

Where: Nelson St to Main St to Water St
When: 10:30am; November 28, 2019
More info: usathanksgiving.com

A man covered in buttons and badges raises his arms during a Thanksgiving Day parade
Shows and performances are features of theThanksgiving Day parade in Chicago, IL © Bilgin Sasmaz / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

Chicago: McDonald’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

The Windy City’s diverse population shows off in this long-running parade, with performances by Greek, Ukrainian and Thai dance groups, a Mexican equestrian team and a squad of Japanese taiko drummers. In between are snippets of high culture, such as excerpts from The Nutcracker performed by the Joffrey Ballet and a theatrical rendition of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. The city’s African-American heritage is proudly represented by dance groups, a tribute to singer Etta James, and a float devoted to the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II. Wild card: Dee Snider, of the 1980s metal band Twisted Sister, is this year’s Grand Marshal.

Where: State St, from Congress Pkwy to Randolph St
When: 8am; November 28, 2019
More info: Chicago Thanksgiving Parade

A Very Hungry Caterpillar balloon floats through Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has the original Thanksgiving Day Parade © Gilbert Carrasquillo / Getty Images

Philadelphia: 6ABC Dunkin’ Donuts Thanksgiving Day Parade 

The parade that started it all, launched in 1920 by Gimbels department store. The store has since closed, but the parade marches on, showcasing such unique participants as a squad of some 450 tap dancers from all over the east coast. The 1.4-mile route passes several landmark parks and buildings with steps, which provide a natural vantage point for on-lookers. Many people head straight for the endpoint, the steep steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (where Rocky Balboa famously trained), which give a view straight down the main drag of Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Across the street, at Eakins Oval, a tent serves hot drinks and soup (it’s sponsored by Campbell’s, naturally) and offers distractions for kids getting antsy while waiting for the parade to roll up.

Where: 20th St and JFK Blvd, east on JFK to 16th St, north on Arch St, northwest on Benjamin Franklin Pkwy through Logan Circle, on to Eakins Oval, ending at Philadelphia Museum of Art
When: 8:30am; November 28, 2019
More info: Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade

Big Head Corps members pose on Woodward Ave in Detroit during the America's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
The Big Head Corps is a long-running staple of the Detroit Thanksgiving Day parade © Paul Warner / Getty Images

Detroit: America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Detroit is still rebounding these days, but its annual parade has been going strong since 1924 and attracts about a million spectators. Among the more than 75 bands, dance groups and floats, the most notable entrants are more than 2,000 clowns and the Big Head Corps, a crew of marchers wearing giant papier-mache heads of cartoon characters, baseball players and actors such as Detroit native Tom Selleck. The living bobbleheads are a modern rendition of a traditional Italian art, and many of the older heads come from Viareggio, Italy, which is known for its elaborate carnival figures.

Where: Woodward Ave, from Kirby St to Congress St
When: November 28 2019
More info: theparade.org

Marching band in Charlotte. A man plays the clarinet in a green uniform. America's best Thanksgiving Day parades
Marching band in Charlotte © Jim McGuire / Charlotte Center City Partners

Charlotte: Novant Health Thanksgiving Day Parade

Long known as the Carrousel Parade, this event now has an unlikely sponsor in a healthcare company – though perhaps that’s appropriate, considering the collective overeating done on this holiday. The parade attracts about 100,000 people, and the main attraction is the impressive marching bands, which are competing for scholarships. A recent innovation is the brigade of ‘Segwalloons’ – ground-level balloons built over Segway scooters. They were developed because light poles on the parade route would have tangled the lines on larger, floating balloons.

Where: Tryon St, from Stonewall St to Ninth St
When: 9am, November 28 2019
More info: charlottecentercity.org

It's T-shirt weather during the WinterNational Parade in North Miami
It's T-shirt weather at the WinterNational Parade in North Miami © Vivian Azalia / City of North Miami

North Miami: Winternational Thanksgiving Parade

Thanksgiving parades usually mean massive crowds and freezing temperatures. North Miami offers an antidote to both, with its small-scale, 40-year-old parade in temperate Florida, aka the Sunshine State. Line up – without bundling up – to see small-town American attractions such as baton twirlers, cheerleaders and Shriners, in their fezzes and tiny cars.

Where: NE 125th St, from NE Sixth Ave to NE 12th Ave
When: 10am, November 28 2019
More info: northmiamifl.gov

Originally published in 2014 and updated in September 2019.

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