Why The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Will Probably Look A Lot Different This Year

macys thanksgiving day parade 2019 turkey float nbc
(Image credit: NBC)

Thanksgiving is only a couple of months away, and one holiday tradition for many families will be very different in 2020. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is usually an extravaganza drawing out huge crowds in New York City and gluing tens of millions of viewers to their seats on Thanksgiving Day, but precautions due to the COVID-19 pandemic will change elements of the event ranging from the floats to the participants to the route.

The 2020 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade will shifted to a television-only experience on NBC, and Macy's has promised that the broadcast on Thursday, November 26 will feature "the Parade’s signature mix of giant character balloons, floats, street performers, clowns and the heralding of the holiday season with the one and only Santa Claus!" New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio commented on the parade changes at a City Hall address, saying of Macy's:

They are extraordinarily civic-minded. They care about New York City. We saw what they did on July 4th with an amazing fireworks display. Even with all the challenges we’re up against, they found a way to do it in a way that celebrated our country and our city, gave us hope but did it safely. And they’re gonna do the same thing again with the Thanksgiving parade. It will not be the same parade we're used to. It will be a different kind of event. They’re reinventing the event for this moment in history and you will be able to feel the spirit and the joy of that day on television, online. Not a live parade, but something that will really give us that warmth and that great feeling we have on Thanksgiving Day.

As Bill de Blasio noted, Macy's made some changes to the 4th of July fireworks celebration in 2020 for the sake of safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the company will do the same for the 94th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Viewers will see a reinvention of the traditional parade that won't be live, but festivities are on the way all the same! Macy's partnered with the City of New York in creating a safe plan for the 2020 event. Everything must be safe for Santa! And, of course, everybody else.

The Macy's team reviewed the Thanksgiving Day playbook to find ways to create an event that aligns with CDC guidelines as well as state and local government protocols. Certain changes have already been announced for the 2020 parade, although more could be in store as the actual production gets closer.

Among the changes are the reduction of the overall number of participants by approximately 75%, and the remaining participants will be split into two days. All of those participants will be part of performances that follow social distancing guidelines, including face coverings and additional personal protective equipment, depending on the part they play in the production. No participant will be younger than 18.

As for the regional high school and college marching bands that traditionally perform in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, the 2020 guidelines don't mean that they lost their shot at the national spotlight. Those performances will be deferred to the 2021 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Entertainment in the form of marching and musical performances will be limited to locally-based ensembles.

Shifting to a production exclusively for TV broadcast means that staging will be focused in a limited area of Manhattan rather than the traditional 2.5-mile parade route. But what about the balloon floats that arguably make the parade into something iconic every year? Well, the Giant Balloon Inflation public event that traditionally happens the day before the parade won't happen in 2020, but there will be floats floating... with a twist.

The signature character balloons are usually flown with 80-100 handlers on the ground. To adhere to social distancing and other guidelines, the 2020 parade will use a specially rigged anchor vehicle framework consisting of five speciality vehicles that have already been approved by the New York City Department of Transportation and the NYPD. There will be floats!

You can watch the 94th Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on Thursday, November 26 starting at 9 a.m. and running to noon in all time zones on NBC. There is still plenty of time before Thanksgiving 2020, so be sure to check out our 2020 fall TV premiere schedule for some viewing options between now and then. If streaming is more your style, swing by our 2020 Netflix premiere guide!

Laura Hurley
Senior Content Producer

Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. CinemaBlend's resident expert and interviewer for One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and a variety of other primetime television. Will not time travel and can cite multiple TV shows to explain why. She does, however, want to believe that she can sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation (and author bios).