The most famous parade is New York City’s, sponsored by Macy’s department store. In fact, all of the largest, most historic parades are squarely commercial ventures, some launched almost a century ago by megastores and local businesses. But even with their pro-shopping gloss, 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.
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 27 2014
More info: social.macys.com
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 22 2014
More info: usathanksgiving.com
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 27 2014
More info: chicagofestivals.org
Philadelphia: 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 27 2014
More info: visitphilly.com, dig.abclocal.go.com
Detroit: America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
You might hear bleak news from Detroit 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: 8:50am, November 27 2014
More info: theparade.org
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: 9:30am, November 27 2014
More info: charlottecentercity.org
North Miami: WinterNational 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.