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America’s Best, Worst, and Wackiest Thanksgiving Parades

Think only Macy's is in on the Turkey Day parade game? Think again!

Ah, at last. It is my favorite time of year—the time of Thanksgiving morning where a large Ronald McDonald balloon looks like it’s going to climb right through my television set and grab me. Seriously, why is his hand like that, though? What is he reaching for? Is it me? I’m convinced it’s me. It’s not, right? I don’t know about you, but I love a good parade. Heck, I love a bad parade. Frankly, as long as there’s gigantic floats slowly rolling down a street and inconveniencing thousands while delighting others, I’m glad about it. And the king of parades is most certainly the Thanksgiving Parade. Each year, we, as Americans, honor Thanksgiving by watching large floating cartoon characters get dragged in the air down the street while we cheer and cold Broadway performers dance around in a whimsical formation.

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Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

WHERE: New York City, New York

Here’s the big guy. Everyone knows this one. In fact, if you know any parade, it’s this parade. It’s the famous one that everybody knows, and watches. Around 3 million spectators show up for this parade, and then 44 more million watch it on TV. People prepare for it by lining up at the break of dawn and staking out their spots, and I prepare for it by waking up at my mom’s house and laying on the ground in front of her television while she shouts, “Do you want a cinnamon roll, Aud?????” from the kitchen and I’m like “Nah,” and she’s like, “You better eat one of these, I made like 3 million of them” and I’m like, “Okay.” After the large Ronald McDonald balloon maniacally floats on by and many Broadway stars dance around to musicals you probably don’t know, it’s time for the guest of honor to end the show—yeah, you know what time it is. It’s Santa Time.

INSIDER TIPIf you’re in NYC, you can see the balloons looking sad before they’re inflated on 77th and 81st Streets between Central Park West and Columbus Ave, from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. If you’re not in NYC, you can imagine what they look like in this state, and you’re probably correct. They are flat and sad.

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America’s Hometown Thanksgiving Parade

WHERE: Plymouth, Massachusetts

Hold the phone—this parade takes place the weekend BEFORE Thanksgiving. What?! Way to stand out from the crowd, Plymouth! Here’s another way they stand out from the crowd: Pretty much everyone’s dressed up like pilgrims. That’s right—this Thanksgiving parade is actually Thanksgiving themed. You’d think by the name of these things that that’d be more regular, but it is, indeed, a rarity. I mean, it makes sense, as Plymouth is where the first Thanksgiving happened, and also the parade is held on Plimouth Plantation (one of those living history museums), with an actual full-scale replica of the original Mayflower. Yikes! Overkill? Totally! This parade is part of Plymouth’s annual Thanksgiving festival, and refers to itself as “one of America’s only historically accurate chronological parades.” (?) So. Cool? Way to go, Plymouth.

INSIDER TIPThis parade was named the #1 parade in the nation by AOL, a company that… apparently still exists, somehow!

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6ABC Dunkin’ Donuts Thanksgiving Day Parade

WHERE: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Philadelphia Thanksgiving Parade is the oldest Thanksgiving day parade in the country. It used to be called “Gimbel’s Thanksgiving Day Parade,” after the department store, but now it belongs to Dunkin’ Donuts, the donut store, as well as the local ABC station (hence the weird combo name). Anyways, they’ve got gigantic floats, balloons, and a bunch of local performers. Doesn’t that sound… like a parade? Well, it is! Also, Santa shows up at the end. But Santa always shows up at the end. Happy holidays, from a bunch of donuts and a TV station! Here’s Santa!

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Annual H-E-B Holiday Parade

WHERE: Houston, Texas

This is the longest running parade in Texas—it’s been around since 1949—and guess what they got in it? That’s right, they’ve got floats, balloons, marching bands and other forms of live entertainment exactly like the stuff in all the other parades listed here. Isn’t it crazy how all of these parades are the same one parade but in many different states?

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Ameren Thanksgiving Day Parade

WHERE: St. Louis, Missouri

This parade in Downtown St. Louis is celebrating its 33rd anniversary this year, and will begin at 8:45 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning. They’ve got the regular things like floats and balloons, as well as restored antique cars and fire trucks from around St. Louis. And of course, they end the show with… ugh, not this guy again… Santa Claus. This guy is everywhere. I, frankly, am sick of him.

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Macy's Holiday Parade

WHERE: Orlando, Florida

This one’s held at Universal Studios in Orlando and technically it’s not actually a Thanksgiving parade (it happens many times from November 28-January 6)—but it does feature floats and balloons directly from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, so it kind of still is a Thanksgiving Day Parade, but for the whole holiday season. There are also clowns, marching bands, and of course that ham Santa Claus shows up at the end, once again. Does this guy have nothing else to do, or what?

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America’s Thanksgiving Parade

WHERE: Detroit, Michigan

This parade’s most notable feature is that it has a prelude radio show that lasts almost 3 hours, beginning at 6 a.m. until the actual parade starts at 8:50 a.m. That’s one way this parade separates itself from the rest—by starting at 8:50 a.m. and not a regular time that makes sense, like 9 a.m.! They have floats and balloons and people dancing who are dressed up. Listen, it’s fine. As usual, your reward for watching this parade for 3 hours is Santa Claus. Here he is, showing up in his overdramatic sleigh and sometimes his wife is there, as well.

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Novant Health Thanksgiving Parade

WHERE: Charlotte, North Carolina

Here we’ve got the largest parade in the Southeast, ladies and gents. It’s been happening since 1947, and goes along Tryon Street right through Uptown Charlotte. It almost disappeared in 2013, but Novant Health swooped in and saved both it and its scholarship program. Guess what they got? That’s right, they got floats and balloons, as well as marching bands, and you’ll never guess who shows up at the end! It’s… It is Santa!

Thanksgiving-Parades-UBS-Parade-Spectacular-Stamford
PHOTO: Stamford Downtown Parade Spectacular
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UBS Parade Spectacular

WHERE: Stamford, Connecticut

This is one of the largest helium balloon parades in the country, held annually in Downtown Stamford. I, however, can’t stop making the mistake of thinking this parade is sponsored by a USB drive—it’s not! This parade is sponsored by UBS Financial Services (not a little thing you put into your computer to save a file outside of it—again, that is a USB not a UBS) and contains things such as (say it with me) floats and balloons and (ugh) Santa Claus.

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My Macy’s Holiday Parade

WHERE: Seattle, Washington

My Macy’s Holiday Parade is not the same thing as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. They are different parades, in different cities. One is regular Macy’s and one is “My” Macy’s. Also, it happens the day after Thanksgiving. Honestly, this parade gets the award for most innovative, “Thanksgiving” not being in the name and it being held on the day after Thanksgiving–two things differentiating it from the rest. It’s a Thanksgiving Day parade in disguise.

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The McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade

WHERE: Chicago, Illinois

Oh great, here comes Ronald McDonald again, and this time, somebody gave him his own whole parade. Why is this guy the face of Thanksgiving? You’d think Thanksgiving was a holiday because Santa Claus and Ronald McDonald dined together when one of them “discovered” America in (whatever year) but it’s not—that wasn’t them. Yes, McDonald’s has its very own parade in Chicago. It takes place, like the others, at around 8 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning, and goes about one mile long down State Street. It was created in 1934 to help lift the spirits of everybody during the Great Depression. Also, it was originally called the Christmas Caravan until someone was probably like “Hey, it’s literally a different holiday today, let’s name this after that one instead, maybe!” They’ve got marching bands, floats, horses, and all the other parade things, as well. In 1998, they added giant character balloons—not sure what took them so long, as that’s like half of what parades usually are, but whatever. This year’s honored guests are prestigious and include Wizzo the Wacky Wizard, Teddy Turkey, and of course the king of the parade, himself: Sir Ronald McDonald.

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