Balloons, dancers and a cheering crowd: Macy’s Thanksgiving parade returns in ‘full strength’

Crimped by the coronavirus pandemic last year, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is returning Thursday in full force — albeit with precautions.

Balloons, floats, marching bands, clowns and performers — and, of course, Santa Claus — are once again moving though roughly four kilometres of Manhattan streets, instead of being confined to one block or sometimes pre-taped, as they were last year.

Spectators, shut out in 2020, were allowed to line the route again. High school and college marching bands from around the country have been invited back to the lineup. (Most of last year’s performers were locally based to cut down on travel.) The giant balloons, tethered to vehicles last year, are getting their costumed handlers back.

“Last year was obviously symbolic. It wasn’t everything we would have liked to see in a parade, but they kept it going,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news briefing Wednesday. “This year, the parade’s back at full strength.”

“It’s going to be a great sign of our rebirth,” he added.

Dancers pose before the start of the parade on Thursday. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Safety measures remain

The Thanksgiving parade is the latest U.S. holiday event to make a comeback as vaccines, familiarity and sheer frustration made officials and some of the public more comfortable with big gatherings amid the ongoing pandemic.

Still, safety measures continue. Parade staffers and volunteers must be vaccinated against COVID-19 and wear masks, though some singers and performers can shed them. There’s no inoculation requirement for spectators, but Macy’s is encouraging them to cover their faces. A popular pre-parade spectacle — the inflation of the giant balloons — was limited to vaccinated viewers.

The Thanksgiving event also comes days after an SUV driver plowed through a Christmas parade in suburban Milwaukee, killing six people and injuring over 60. Authorities said the driver, who has been charged with intentional homicide, was speeding away from police after a domestic dispute.

De Blasio said Wednesday there was no credible, specific threat to the Thanksgiving parade, but the New York Police Department’s security measures would be extensive, as usual.

“I’m very confident in what the NYPD has prepared to keep everyone safe tomorrow,” he said.

Thousands of police officers are assigned to the parade route, from streets to rooftops. Cars are blocked from the parade route with sand-filled garbage trucks, other heavy vehicles and approximately 163,000 kilograms of concrete barriers.

See behind the scenes as crews set up

Inflation team members inflate the Boss Baby balloon during Macy’s 95th Annual Thanksgiving Day Parade’s ‘Inflation Eve’ in New York on Wednesday. (Jeenah Moon/The Associated Press)

Crews worked ahead to get ready for the parade, which was scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. ET. (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

The Grogu, or ‘Baby Yoda,’ balloon is a new addition to the parade. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Chase, from the hit children show PAW Patrol, is readied for the big show. (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

Inside the barricades, the parade features about 8,000 participants, four dozen balloons of varying sizes and two dozen floats.

New balloon giants joining the lineup include the title character from the Netflix series Ada Twist, Scientist; the Pokemon characters Pikachu and Eevee on a sled (Pikachu has appeared before, in different form), and Grogu, aka Baby Yoda, from the television show The Mandalorian. New floats are coming from entities ranging from condiment maker Heinz to NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming service to the Louisiana Office of Tourism.

Entertainers and celebrities include Carrie Underwood, Jon Batiste, Nelly, Kelly Rowland, Miss America Camille Schrier, the band Foreigner and many others. Several Broadway musical casts and the Radio City Rockettes also are due to perform.

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