How The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Adapted To 2020

Emily DeMotte, Travel Editor

Every year, families across America look forward to the showing of the beloved annual Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, which returned for its 94th consecutive year on Thursday, November 26th, 2020 on 34th street. But how did the typically crowd-gathering and extravagant thanksgiving tradition that treks through the middle of New York City adapt to the circumstances of 2020?

In a normal year, the Macy’s Parade is considered the largest in the world. However, in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, it was clear that the parade would have to change with the times. Despite disappointing regular audience members of the parade, Macy’s made the difficult decision to make viewing entirely virtual in order to put the safety of everyone involved first, closing the streets to any audience members. This year’s parade, hosted by Samantha Guthrie, Hoda Kotb, and Al Roker was available for viewing by broadcast only via its usual platform of NBC. Additionally, the route of the parade was limited to only 34th street, rather than it’s usual march through NYC starting on West 77th street. While the floats, balloons, and some performances were streamed live on Thanksgiving morning, many of the performances were previously filmed on the days leading up to the parade in an effort to limit crowding. 

Kicking it all off was The Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon, delivering a captivating dance number performance that invited familiar feelings of the holiday despite the year’s unfortunate circumstances and many people spending the holiday without loved ones. Shortly following was a performance of the classic song ‘Schuyler Sisters’ from hit musical Hamilton, written by Lin Manuel Miranda and hot in the spotlight once again after the exciting release of the full length musical on Disney+ in July of this year. The Broadway cast performed the upbeat number right outside of Richard Rodger’s theater, Hamilton’s home since its original opening in 2015. 

However, Hamilton was not the only Broadway performance that viewers were treated to on Thursday morning. 19-year-old broadway star Rennee Rapp revisited her role of Regina George in Tina Fey’s Mean Girls, performing the song ‘Someone Gets Hurt’ alongside her fellow ‘classmates’, cast members of Tony-Award winning musical Jagged Little Pill sung a heartwarming rendition of ‘You Learn’, and cast members of Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations made an appearance singing familiar song ‘My Girl’. Although these performances were just snippets of the full-length musical masterpieces, they warmed the hearts of Broadway fans who have been missing the thrill of live theater since its devastating closure in March. 

It wouldn’t be the Macy’s Parade without everyone’s favorite characters flying through the air as massive balloons, and this year was no exception. Appearances were made as usual by Snoopy, Smokey Bear, Greg Heffley from Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Chase from Paw Patrol, Pikachu, the Pillsbury Dough Boy, Ronald Mcdonald, SpongeBob Squarepants, The Nutcracker, and “Trolls”. Returning for its 54th year was The Elf on the Shelf, and new to the lineup were The Boss Baby and the Red Titan from Ryan’s World, the first balloon featured in the parade to be inspired by a youtube creator. In compliance with COVID-19 restrictions, the balloons were pulled by specialty vehicles rather than the typical 80 to 100 handlers.

Also featured in the parade were performances from New York City Ballet’s The Nutcracker and the Radio City Rockettes from the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, both yearly shows that contribute to New York City’s magical environment during the holiday season. While both shows have unfortunately been canceled this season, families got a little taste of the magic as NYCB Principal Ballerina Ashley Bouder performed the Sugar Plum Fairy variation from George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker atop the Central Park float and the beloved Rockettes marched in perfect unison to the Toy Soldier dance from the Christmas Spectacular.

In between, it all was bedazzling floats, including Blues Clues, Tom and Jerry, the Big Red Shoe Car, and many more, captivating marching bands, and notable musical performances from well-known artists and groups such as Beba Rexha, Sofia Carson, AJR, Pentatonix, Dolly Parton, and KeKe Palmer. 

Closing the show, an appearance highly anticipated by yearly viewers, was Santa Clause and Mrs. Clause atop their magic sleigh, signaling the official end to the parade and beginning of the holiday season. But what did iUP students have to say about it?

10th-grade student Natalie McLaren says that “One of my favorite parts about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is definitely the Radio City Rockettes. They’re gorgeous dancers that know what the definition of coordination is, and I love to watch them perform. They look like they’re meant to be there and it makes me happy to see such talented people sharing their gift in a time of being grateful!”. 

Alternatively, 6th-grade student Mckinney Rupp says that her favorite part of the Thanksgiving tradition is “That they recognized some of the floats that are not showing anymore but also some of the crowd favorites and I loved that because I think that it is important to remember how far it has come but also to step back and notice everything that we may have never been able to see”. 

  If you missed out on the fun this year, mark your calendar for the 2021 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which will hopefully welcome the return of a live audience and other parade festivities. While the usual extravagance that Macy’s brings to the table on Thanksgiving Day was not possible this year, I think most can agree that they succeeded at creating a safe and entertaining experience that did not disappoint.