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4 Most Extravagant Thanksgiving Day Parades
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November 3, 2019
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Travel Trivia Editorial
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The U.S. has celebrated Thanksgiving for almost 400 years, giving each city, town, community, and family ample time to develop their own traditions and unique holiday activities. For many, Thanksgiving Day includes a holiday feast and stretchy pants. For some families, the feast also might be a time of prayer, or a time to share with others the things and people you are thankful for. If a parade isn't part of your normal Thanksgiving Day routine, consider shaking up your holiday and attending one of the four most extravagant Thanksgiving Day parades held in the United States.

H-E-B Thanksgiving Day Parade, Houston, Texas

Thanksgiving turkey parade float pulled by a tractor
Credit: Roberto Galan/ iStock

For 70 years, the H-E-B Thanksgiving Day Parade has meandered through downtown Houston, showcasing the city's community and providing an opportunity for attendees to celebrate the arrival of the holiday season. Houston's first Thanksgiving Day parade took place in 1949 and kicked off with Santa's arrival at Union Station. Santa led the parade as he guided his sleigh to the Foley's downtown location. Since then Houston's Thanksgiving Day parade (which has had numerous sponsors over the years) has grown into an enormous display of extravagant floats, dance troupes, marching bands, and giant balloons.

Each year, the H-E-B Thanksgiving Day Parade begins at the intersection of Smith and Lamar Streets and makes a big loop ending at Smith and Dallas Streets. You can attend the parade for free and search for the best spot to catch the action, but if you're viewing the parade with older adults or young kids, you might want to pay for bleacher seating. Each year, you can purchase tickets for seating along Smith Street, at the intersection of McKinney by Hermann Square and the Wells Fargo Building.

America's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Detroit, Michigan

Reindeer float in Detroit, Michigan
Credit: Jon/ flickr

The rich historic traditions that accompany America's Thanksgiving Day Parade in Detroit contribute to the event's extravagance. For 95 years, Michigan families usher in the holiday season when Santa Claus steps from the parade's final float onto a Woodward Avenue marquee at J.L. Hudson's Department Store to accept the key to Detroit and "the hearts of good children everywhere." The department store hosted the first Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1924, which spread holiday cheer as it proceeded down Woodward Avenue. According to the Detroit Historical Society, the first parade was small, with a Mother Goose float pulled by horses and seven marching bands.

Hudson's quit sponsoring the parade in 1979, shortly before closing its downtown store, but the celebration has lived on with the support of local businesses and the Michigan Thanksgiving Parade Foundation. Today, America's Thanksgiving Day Parade follows a three-mile parade route that begins at the intersection of Kirby Street and Woodward Avenue. Parade-goers can enjoy giant balloons, ornate floats, talented marching bands, their favorite cartoon characters, and celebrity appearances.

Chicago Thanksgiving Parade, Chicago, Illinois

Miss Chicago in 2015 at The McDonald's Thanksgiving Parade in Chicago
Credit: Roberto Galan/ iStock

If you've watched the national broadcast of the Chicago Thanksgiving Parade, you can easily understand why it's one of the four most extravagant Thanksgiving Day Parades. The parade rolls along State Street from Congress to Randolph and usually features favorite character balloons such as Big Bird, Kermit the Frog, and the Cookie Monster. For many years, the parade was called the McDonald's Thanksgiving Parade. As time has gone by, however, more sponsors have contributed to making Chicago's Thanksgiving Parade spectacular. Throughout the years, Brachs Candy, Marshal Fields department stores, and Target have all been major sponsors.

The Chicago Thanksgiving Parade actually started as a Christmas parade in 1934, called the Christmas Caravan. Its sole purpose was to cheer up the city's residents who were suffering during the Great Depression.

Each year, organizers try to outdo the previous year, resulting in amazing talent such as the Radio City Rockettes, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and the Joffrey Ballet.

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, New York City, New York

The 87th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade
Credit: ALEXIUZ/ iStock

As the largest city in the United States, it shouldn't be surprising that New York City is the home to the largest and most extravagant Thanksgiving Day Parade. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade does not disappoint; the parade begins on the Upper West Side at Central Park West and West 77th Street and follows Central Park around to 6th Avenue, where the parade turns and heads through Midtown Manhattan until it reaches Macy's Herald Square on 34th Street (yes, that 34th Street, where the "Miracle" happened).

Macy's opened in 1924 as "The World's Largest Store," and put together a holiday parade on Thanksgiving that year to encourage shoppers, the same year as Hudson's started their parade in Detroit. Today's parade is much shorter than the six-mile Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade of the early years, but everything else about the parade has grown. The Macy's parade is famous for its massive balloon characters, which always include some version of Snoopy. In 2019, Snoopy got an upgrade to wear his astronaut gear. Other extravagant balloons you can see at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade include Olaf from Frozen, Smokey Bear, and the Pillsbury Doughboy, who all float along to the sound of the country's best high school marching bands.