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Americans get in holiday spirit with Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade

By Chris Kokenes, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Macy's parade marks an 84-year tradition
  • Two new floats will become part of the 15 float ensemble
  • Santa will bring up the rear
  • This will be the second year for a new parade route

New York (CNN) -- Many Americans will take a respite from the barrage of unemployment figures and mortgage foreclosure news and begin to get into the holiday spirit Thursday with the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade -- a tradition through good times and bad, for the last 84 years.

All across the country, viewers will be tuned in to watch the parade on television and most will have the smell of a roasting turkey and stuffing wafting through the house, rekindling childhood memories and inspiring new ones.

The parade, so famous that the movie, "Miracle on 34th Street" centers on it, is august in its tradition. Like most years, parade organizers attempt to mix the old and the new, introducing new floats along with classics.

This year's parade will have two new helium balloon attractions, featuring the debut of characters from Diary of A Wimpy kid and martial arts master Kung Fu Panda.

The balloons that are returning to the lineup include classics like Kermit the Frog, Buzz Lightyear, Hello Kitty, Pillsbury Doughboy, Ronald McDonald, Horton, Pikachu, Sailor Mickey, Shrek, Smurf, Snoopy as the Flying Ace, Spiderman and SpongeBob SquarePants. They round off the 15 float ensemble.

The balloons and the fleet of 27 floats, seven which are new, will be aided by the help of over 800 Macy's employees.

The parade, as always, will feature some of the country's most talented marching bands.

It might seem easier applying to med school than a band gaining entry to the parade. The competition starts with bands chosen from more than 150 applications. An invitation to join the 12-band lineup (two added from last year) comes after bands submit videos of past performances, a list of awards and letters of recommendations. Once the band is selected, it is faced with an arduous 18-month routine filled with practices and fundraisers.

This year Santa will be back in his one-year old sleigh, a replacement of his previous model, which was 40 years old. Santa has been a fixture at the back of the parade for every year except 1933, when he led it. Like few things these days, the parade has staying power. Every year, except when the country was embroiled in World War II and needed supplies like helium, the parade has marched along Broadway.

It all started with a modest get together. On Thanksgiving Day in 1924, an ad hoc team of store employees assembled floats and animals from the Central Park Zoo.

At first, the parade was known as the "Christmas Parade." The employees, many of whom were European immigrants, decided to have a parade, a custom they brought from their native countries, to offer a show of thanks.

That provided enormous opportunities for them, according to "Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade," written by Robert M. Grippo and Christopher Hoskins. The parade grew in popularity and generated a lot of money for the department store.

For 2010, the Macy's parade will once again follow a route first taken last year, bypassing Broadway as it makes it's way to Herald Square.

The convoy of floats, a cavalry of 1,500 cheerleaders followed up by Santa's sleigh, will charge down Seventh Avenue to Times Square, turn left and head to Sixth Avenue and travel south the last eight blocks to the store's famed flagship in Herald's Square on 34th Street.

The parade route was modified in 2009 due to the installation of a pedestrian plaza on Broadway.

For city residents and tourists who viewed it, it's not what route the parade takes, but the message, they say. For many, the parade is a reminder that even in these challenging times, with so many people leaving 2010 worse off than when they went in, there are things to be grateful for. There are miracles waiting -- like the one that takes place on 34th Street every year -- even if it requires another route to get there.