The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade celebrates it’s 92nd year this holiday season, which means plenty of opportunities for new balloons, performances, and floats, as well as a return to beloved favorites.
Beginning planning with selecting marching bands 18 months out, the parade is a mammoth task merging live performance, floats, iconic balloons and more. Executive producer Susan Tercero tells EW one of the biggest challenges is balancing tradition with new additions. “It’s one of those things that it’s a tradition. It’s something people look forward to. They build their holiday around [it] and you have a lot of people from a lot of different walks of life,” she says. “It is a balance of trying to think how do we bring that one thing that everyone is expecting to see [with] the surprise [and] some new things. We really try to figure out what is going to tell a great story that morning that everybody can relate to.”
This year’s parade brings a host of new balloons, the parade’s most famous and unique feature. New inflatables include Dragonball Z‘s Goku, elf characters from Netflix’s The Christmas Chronicles, and “Little Cloud” from the Macy’s Blue Sky Gallery series. Tercero says a lot of factors, from potential parade partners to pop culture trends to whether their shape can easily fly, impact what new balloons they might introduce from year to year.
“This is what our parade is known for and everybody recognizes the things that we put in the sky,” she says. “It’s not just any character. It’s characters that people are longing to see. We have a lot of balloons that come back year after year that people get excited about as well.”
She notes that she hopes the anticipation for Goku will bring many new viewers to the parade. “Dragonball Z is celebrating its 30th anniversary, so you have a bunch of super-fans out there, who are tuning in for the first time to the parade because they are dying to see this character,” she says. “It’s really exciting to see him come to life, and he’s really representative of that cartoon character. He’s an action character, and he looks like a cartoon come to life in balloon form.”
The introduction of Little Cloud is another highlight, which is a return to a series of balloons Macy’s did a few years back called the Blue Sky Gallery. Collaborating with art collective FriendsWithYou, they will introduce “Little Cloud” to the parade as a new balloon in that series. “He’s a sweet little cloud that will probably be very familiar to those who are familiar with FriendsWithYou,” she says. “He’ll be accompanied by some cute raindrop costumed characters, and the artist himself will be walking with an inflatable rainbow character. It should be this very cute, sweet moment that I think a lot of people will really relate to. A lot of people really enjoy [FriendsWithYou] because they have a little bit of a sense of nostalgia and childlike artistry to them that appeals to a lot of people.”
Tercero also calls attention to the “Go Bowling” ballonicles, a parade term which is an inflatable balloon that sits atop a vehicle manned by a driver invisible to audiences. “Basically these are 16-foot-tall bowling pins and a 14-foot-tall bowling ball, accompanied by two very large bowling shoes,” explains Tercero. “It’s really kitschy, but it’s really fun. It’s really cute to watch because it’s an image that everybody knows and everyone will get a kick out of.”
The blend of old and new also extends to performances, which range from musical entries from the likes of John Legend and Diana Ross on floats to the beloved street performances from Broadway’s best and the Rockettes. Legend will perform a song off his new holiday album, while Ross will be joined by her children and extended family for her performance. Tercero said Ross’ team approached Macy’s about making the parade a family affair, and they jumped at the opportunity. “Diana Ross hits that balance we were talking about earlier between old and new, what’s really iconic and recognizable,” she notes. “She’s absolutely an icon. I think the last time she was in it was, it may have been in the 1970s. You think about these people who have done this and then for them to return, people just get so excited when they hear it.”
Another highlight of the parade is a selection of performances from some of the best of Broadway. This year’s parade will feature numbers from the cast of Mean Girls, My Fair Lady, The Prom, and Summer: The Donna Summer Musical. Tercero says the exact numbers that are performed come from a back and forth between Macy’s and production teams. As for which shows they feature each year, she explains, “The selection process comes from what’s really happening on Broadway. We like to be able to debut the best of Broadway, but we also like to show those viewers what they want to see. They typically like to see a show that they know and love like My Fair Lady. But then you have shows that are really relevant that are new to Broadway, like Mean Girls. Then you have Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, which everyone will recognize every single song from that show, and it will be a celebration of Donna Summer herself.”
For the Macy’s team, it’s not a parade without an opening kickline from the Rockettes and the official start of the holiday season with the closing appearance of Santa in his sleigh. Tercero says the Rockettes have been with the parade for around 50 years. “They were a staple in new York. The parade has always been about spectacle and performance,” she says. “Everybody can think about back to when they first started seeing the parade, the Rockettes were there, so there’s some parts of this parade that you cannot do without, and they’re definitely one of those pieces.”
From a new chocolate factory float from Kinder and to the intricate puppetry of the new Kalihari resorts float to the beautiful music of the Macy’s employees on the Macy’s Singing Christmas Tree, there’s so much Tercero can’t wait for audiences to see. “Every year we try to challenge ourselves to do bigger and better and bolder things,” she explains. “We like to try and think about how we can utilize new technology for all of this. It’s really trying to figure out how we meet the needs of the audience.”
Whether it’s a time honored tradition or one you’ve never tried before, get ready for a world of delights from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade before you tuck into your turkey and pumpkin pie.
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade airs at 9 a.m. on NBC.