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Floating the Balloon: Lessons From the Front Lines of the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade

An inside look at how the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons are prepped for their trip down the parade route.

Everyone has a favorite holiday - Christmas, Halloween, even their birthday and I'm no different.

My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving but not for the reason you'd think. Sure, the food is what most people think of when you talk about Thanksgiving but really, you can have turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes any day of the year. My reason for loving Thanksgiving is simply something that happens only once a year: The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Now, many families have a Thanksgiving Day tradition. Maybe it's sleeping a bit later than usual and having a special breakfast to tide you over until the big meal of the day; maybe it's the football games in the afternoon; for some it's trekking into New York City to see the Parade in person. For others, it is just parking ones' self in front of the television at 9 a.m. for three hours of parade watching.

Since 2000, I have been privileged to be a member of the Balloon Inflation Team for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The volunteer job is one of the most rewarding things that I do. Seeing the faces of the children (and adults) as they watch the balloons come to life is amazing.

We start bright and early at 7 a.m. Wednesday morning with a meeting and head into New York City to 77th and 81st Streets to begin to make the magic happen. This day-long procedure ensures that the television viewers and those along the parade route will have a wonderful parade-watching experience. We love talking with the spectators who gather along the streets to watch the balloons being inflated and to view them up close (and yes, the term is inflate, not blow up.)

The balloons are removed from their huge crates, unrolled onto tarps on the street and a net is placed over the flaccid balloon. The balloons are made up of many chambers, and the chambers are inflated in a particular order. Each balloon takes two hours or more to completely inflate. Once the balloon is completely inflated, we secure the net with sandbags all around the balloon, keeping the balloon safe and in place for the night.

After a short sleep in the museum, the inflation team is back up at 3:30 a.m. Thanksgiving morning to get the balloons ready for their television appearance.

As a Pilot for one of the balloons in the Parade, my job is to watch the balloon all the way down the entire Parade route  ... while walking backwards...to be sure that it flies properly and safely. After a short stop at Macy's in Herald Square, we end up on 7th Avenue and 37th Street to begin the deflation of the balloons.

It is a fun, rewarding and exhausting experience that I look forward to every year. So whether you are in front of your television or watching the Parade in person on Thursday, November 22nd, please think of the 115 people who worked previous 30+ hours to make the Parade a reality. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Aditya November 25, 2012 at 04:15 AM
the parade was really cool for the whole family!
MGT November 26, 2012 at 12:59 PM
I also marched in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade as a "Float Escort". One of the fun parts of volunteering is to meet the "talent" on the parade floats first hand. Jimmy Fallon was great; as soon as he arrived at the float, he went straight to the police and other volunteers and started to thank us and wish us a Happy Thanksgiving. Most of the other stars were very friendly and approachable.
JAFO November 26, 2012 at 05:35 PM
Nice little blurb, but terrible headline. I don't see any "lessons".
Craig Hueneke November 27, 2012 at 06:35 PM
I WANT IN!!!! That is actually one of my "bucket list" items. I love parades!! To be involved with the Ridgewood 4th of July Parade as a "CFO" (Chief Float Operator) for my children's school for 4 years was a top-5 experience, but to be in the PARADE OF ALL PARADES!! I don't think I could ever recover for that!!! (in a good way of course!)
Shannon Renee Ragland March 14, 2013 at 04:13 AM
How do you become a balloon handler in the Macy's Parade ....I have always wanted to do this ! I am really interested in marking this off my list ....even though I do not live in NYC, could I still do this ?? And how?? I have this on my Bucket list ....It would be so cool.

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