On Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 23, 2017, in New York City, the 91st Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will delight the millions of people who watch either the NBC broadcast or via Live Steam.

The parade will start at 9 a.m., Eastern Time, at the corner of Central Park West and 77th Street and proceed downtown along a 2.5-mile route, to Columbus Circle, then along Central Park South to 6th Avenue, down 6th Avenue to 34th Street, then finally along 34th Street to Macy’s Herald Square (34th Street).

This continues a tradition that started back in the 1920s, when America’s doors were wide open and millions of immigrants passed through Ellis Island. Many Macy’s employees were first generation immigrants, proud of being new Americans and wanting to celebrate an American holiday with the kind of festivals they’d known in Europe.

Macy’s Christmas Day Parade in 1924 included elephants

That first year—1924—the employees, dressed as clowns, cowboys, knights and sheiks– marched from 145th Street down to 34th Street. Accompanying them were floats, bands and 25 live animals—including camels and elephants–borrowed from the Central Park Zoo. A quarter of a million spectators turned out to see what was first called the Macy’s Christmas Day Parade.

Though the parade has become bigger and more elaborate each year, the clowns—mainly Macy’s employees–remain the heart and soul of the event. They take courses on makeup and costume, on how to use confetti and most important, how to stay lively and animated for the entire three-hour parade.

The original Felix the Cat Balloon.

The famous giant balloons first appeared in 1927–Felix the Cat was the first—but they didn’t last long. As no one took into account the fact that helium expands at high altitudes, those first balloons exploded when released. The following year, the formula of helium and air was perfected and in a dramatic finale to the parade, all the balloons were successfully released. Later, they’d be equipped with a return address and an offer of a prize, but after a couple of near-disasters—like an aviator almost crashing as he tried to retrieve a balloon, that practice was discontinued.

Celebrities like Harpo Marx and Benny Goodman arrived in the 1930s to fill the gap. During the depression, Santa’s arrival was broadcast on the radio and more than a million people lined the city streets looking for a brief escape from the harsh realities of breadlines and unemployment.

When World War II broke out, the parade was suspended; rubber and helium could not be spared for entertainment. And when it resumed in 1945, the parade—with celebrities like Jackie Gleason, Shirley Temple and Jimmy Durante–was televised for all America to see. Later, stars like Sid Caesar, Danny Kaye and even Howdy Doody made appearances, along with Mickey Mouse and his Disney pals, as well as Superman and other comic book characters.

Rain or shine, the parade went on each year, except for 1971, when high winds made it impossible.

This year’s line-up will feature 17 giant character balloons; 28 legacy balloons, balloonicles, balloonheads and trycaloons; 26 floats; 1,100 cheerleaders and dancers; more than 1,000 clowns; 12 marching bands and six performance groups.

This original version of the Aflac Duck made its debut in 2011.

As always, there will be new balloons, including Super Wings’ Jett, Frozen’s Olaf, PAW Patrol’s Chase, Harold the Baseball Player, Macy’s Golden Snowflake Stars and the third version of the Aflac Duck (the original version debuted in 2011).

This year’s new floats include Everyone’s Favorite Bake Shop by Entenmann’s, Harvest in the Valley by Green Giant, Parade Day Mischief by Sour Patch Kids Candy, Shimmer and Shine by Nickelodeon and Universal Playground by Sprout.

A surprise float sponsored by Macy’s will debut this year. It will stand over 30 feet tall and feature more than 100 Macy’s employees from around the country who will sing during the parade.

From pop singers to hip hop stars and a boy band, the parade will feature lots of talent, including Sabrina Carpenter, Nicky Jam, Lauren Alaina, Bebe Rexha, Angelica Hale, Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi, Leslie Odom Jr., Miss America Cara Mund, Whoopi Goldberg, Olivia Holt, Wyclef Jean, Dustin Lynch, Harry Connick Jr., Andra Day, Sara Evans, Andy Grammer, Smokey Robinson, Jimmy Fallon, the Radio City Rockettes and 98 Degrees.

PARADE ROUTE

The parade begins at the corner of 77th Street and Central Park West, proceeds south for 18 blocks to Columbus Circle and turns left onto Central Park South, proceeds for two blocks, then turns right onto 6th Avenue. The parade continues for another 25 blocks to Macy’s at Herald Square.

THE DAY BEFORE

Inflation of the balloons, which has become a popular spectator event on its own, happens the day before, November 22nd, starting at 1 p.m. and continuing until 8 p.m. This year there will be 25 parade balloons.

FUN PARADE FACTS

The first parade in 1924 was called the Macy’s Christmas Day Parade, although it took place on Thanksgiving Day.

Macy’s is the world’s second largest consumer of helium; the United States government is the first.

If you laid every parade balloon since 1927 end to end, they would stretch from Battery Park City to the Cloisters and beyond.