Thanksgiving Day Parades – Celebrating Gratitude on a Grand Scale

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What could serve more effectively as a symbol of collective gratitude than a parade? Big cities have long served as the gold standards, hosting extravagant parades with gigantic floats and performers on moving truck beds. While Thanksgiving Day parades elsewhere might not match the grandeur of the larger events, uniquely quirky and poignant versions are widespread in America. Here are four Thanksgiving Day parades to please the pickiest parade goer.

Thanksgiving Day Parades Round-Up - Tom Turkey in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade – Detroit, Michigan

The people of Detroit have been exhibiting their thankfulness since 1924, when the first America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade unfurled on Woodward Avenue. The parade includes a number of unique floats and characters. Notably the Big Head Corps is a troupe of artists that march while wearing paper-mache heads from a magnificent collection crafted by artisans in Viareggio, Italy. Equally novel is the Distinguished Clown Corps, more than just a group of happy-go-lucky clowns—the people behind the goofy grins and suits are some of Detroit’s most esteemed corporate and community leaders, having sacrificed their time to exhibit their devotion to their city.

Twenty-five floats will drift between crowds during the parade, encompassing themes such as Winter Wonderland, Candyland, and all things turkey. For those planning to attend, be aware that spectators begin staking out chair and blanket space at about 6:30 am. For those who prefer a reserved location, tickets range from $35 for grandstand seats to $50 for spots in the “TV Zone”. Children 2 and under receive free admission, underscoring the value Detroit places on family fun.

The Big Head Corps in America's Thanksgiving Parade

The Big Head Corps in America’s Thanksgiving Parade (Photo from

6abc Dunkin’ Donuts Thanksgiving Day Parade – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Philadelphia’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is America’s oldest, dating back a bewildering 93 years. Rooted in a rich past, Philly’s parade is nonetheless geared towards the modern child, featuring enormous Elmo, Cookie Monster, and Thomas the Tank Engine balloons. This year, Walt Disney World is sponsoring a Magic Kingdom float that is a delightful, inflatable replica of the world’s most iconic make-believe royal castle.

While nearly 20 different marching bands provide a soundtrack for the festivities, more eclectic performers will be in rotation: the Eagle Medicine Band of Cherokees, who perform Native-American tribal dances; Atlantic Coast Roller Girls, exhibiting their hard-hitting lifestyle for an audience of jaw droppers; and the Roxey Ballet Company, exuding grace on moving truck beds. The parade begins at 8:15 am, then proceeds steadily northwest on the Ben Franklin Parkway.

The always classy Miss Piggy floating over Philadelphia’s 6abc Dunkin’ Donuts Thanksgiving Day Parade (Photo by digitalArt2 at Flickr)

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade – New York, New York

No story about Thanksgiving Day parades would be complete without mention of the most famous parade of them all, the Macy’s Day Parade. Each year the parade is viewed by over 3.5 million New Yorkers and another 50 million viewers at home. Started in 1924, the parade originally featured Macy’s employees and animals from the Central Park Zoo. The parade’s signature balloon floats made their debut a few years later in 1927. This year the 2.5-mile march through Manhattan’s streets will feature performances by American Idol’s Kellie Pickler, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Jimmy Fallon and the Roots, Goo Goo Dolls, and other celebrities.

Mickey Mouse balloon from the 1934 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

Mickey Mouse balloon from the 1934 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (Photo courtesy of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade)

Mother Goose Parade: Turkey Fest Out West – El Cajon, California

The Mother Goose Parade reigns as one of the largest Thanksgiving parades west of the Mississippi, and represents uniquely Californian charms. The fest happens annually in the town of El Cajon, located about 20 minutes outside of San Diego, drawing hundreds of thousands of spectators and participants. That’s right, participants. The parade’s performers, clowns, floaters of floats, and marching bands are composed of individuals who qualified via application. Many participants are from small organizations involved in non-profit groups, charities, or other philanthropic entities.

Mother Goose balloon float in the Mother Goose Parade in El Cajon, California

Mother Goose balloon float in the Mother Goose Parade in El Cajon, California (Photo from

The variety of motorized floats, balloons, performance artists, and live animals makes it a family-friendly event with something for everyone. Although the event is annually held on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, don’t be deterred—nothing ignites the fire of anticipation like a parade celebrating an impending holiday.

When done right, a parade is the supreme expression of mass celebration. Although Thanksgiving might involve some intense soul-searching and family bonding, the floats and balloons that symbolize America’s cheer play an important role in this holiday.

What is your favorite Thanksgiving Day parade? Let us know in the comments below!

Top photo of Tom Turkey courtesy of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

About Gabe Miller, The Philosophical Travel Daddy

Long before Gabe Miller was a Travel Daddy, he was a Travel Son. Growing up in Ann Arbor, Michigan during the early 1980s, he was exposed to the town’s intellectual, hippie aesthetic before becoming functionally bipedal. He had barely shed his lanugo by the time he began to travel, going on modest trips that were nonetheless profound. His wife is equally passionate about traveling, and together they’re sharing new adventures with their baby boy. From the day of their son’s birth, they’ve rejected the idea that having a child means staying indoors with the blinds drawn. They take him everywhere they go, and his smiles are proof that he’s perpetually prepared for adventure! Gabe and his family currently reside happily in the small rural town of Dundee, Michigan. Gabe has a B.A. in English and works as a middle school English teacher. Connect with Gabe on Twitter as @thetraveldaddy.

  1. The Mother Goose Parade in El Cajon – who knew? Well, not me!

  2. Ellen Lanin says

    We attended the Detroit parade about 40 years ago and it was fabulous. I usually watched the parades on TV by myself while my kids and husband slept because I was the only one up preparing the turkey. I considered it an important “my time,” switching the channels to try to see all the different parades before football came on.

    • Gabe Miller, The Philosophical Travel Daddy says

      Ellen – Switching between the parades on Thanksgiving morning is a great tradition. I’m expecting another great Detroit parade this year.

  3. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

    Gabe – Can you believe I live close to El Cajon and I have never made it to the Mother Goose Parade?! If we ever stay home for Thanksgiving, we will have to go check it out!

  4. wanderingeducators says

    one time we went to the one in detroit and it was SO COLD that year!!!! great list. 🙂

  5. Colleen, maybe we will see you there!

  6. Gabe Miller, The Philosophical Travel Daddy says

    Colleen – Get thee to Mother Goose! Such close proximity all but makes it mandatory. And Wandering Educator, any event in Detroit between October and March will probably be cold, but that just sharpens the senses!

  7. Jay@TravelIdeaz says

    I have missed this so much!! Why were you ever so far away 🙂

    I love the gigantic floats, a nephew of mine would go crazy seeing those.

  8. I didn’t know that there were other big Thanksgiving Day parades outside of NYC. I’m sure they are fun traditions for locals and visitors to these areas.

  9. Gabe Miller, The Philosophical Travel Daddy says

    Indeed they are, Allison. Indeed they are.

  10. I didn’t know about these either (besides the NYC one, of course). good to know for families!

  11. Laurel- Capturing la Vita says

    How cool, I never even knew of those parades. Love the pic of the old Mickey float!

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