NEW YORK – “Hey Astronaut Snoopy, we are clear for take-off!”
With that Twitter message, the New York Police Department gave the green light for the start of the traditional Thanksgiving Day Parade with its enormous balloons organized by Macy’s department store, although this year heavy winds in the Big Apple may make the event more challenging than normal.
Thousands turned out in Manhattan – authorities expect some 3.5 million to line the streets to view the parade – between Central Park and 34th Street for the 93rd annual turkey-day event.
The tradition is geared – above all – to children and the central focus is on the 16 huge and colorful balloons representing the most popular characters from comic strips, cartoons and animated series, including SpongeBob SquarePants, Snoopy – who is the character who has appeared in the most parades (40) of any and this year is wearing an astronaut suit for the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing – Olaf from “Frozen” and the well-known Smokey the Bear.
The parade includes 26 floats, 1,200 dancers and balloon handlers, more than 1,000 clowns and 11 musical bands.
This year, weather forecasts led organizers and the public to fear the worst, given that heavy winds were predicted that could prevent the balloons from flying.
New York has had a strict regulation regarding the flight of these balloons since 1997, when one of them was swept by the wind and hit a lamppost, injuring several people including a woman who was in a coma for almost a month.
Maneuvering an enormous helium-filled balloon along the parade route – which runs for two miles through Manhattan – can be a challenge even under the best of conditions.
NBC News reported that the balloons range from 31 to 67 feet high and require teams of up to 90 handlers. They can be flown up to 55 feet over the parade route, but according to city regulations they cannot be flown in sustained winds of greater than 23 mph of if there are gusts of greater than 33.5 mph.
The Thanksgiving Day Parade is a custom dating back to 1924 and, once again, it is being staged amid special security measures, with thousands of cops deployed along the route.
Since 1924, the parade has only been cancelled four times – from 1942-1945, during World War II. Although animals appeared in the parade in the early years, balloons began to be used in 1927.
In 1971, on a windy Thanksgiving Day, the balloons had to be kept at ground level but tens of thousands of fascinated children were able to view them up close, according to local media reports.
Televisions in many households around the country will be tuned to the event, which is being broadcast live, and people will be able to enjoy musical performances by Celine Dion, Black Eyed Peas, Billy Porter, Jimmy Fallon and The Roots and Idina Menzel, as well as an appearance by none other than Santa Claus.