McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade

McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade
Photo: chicagofestivals.org
The McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade, also known as Chicago’s Grand Holiday Tradition, is one of the largest holiday parades in the United States. This annual event is produced and presented by the Chicago Festival Association, it begins on Thanksgiving morning at 8 am and lasts about three hours.

The history of the parade began in the 1930s when the country was suffering from the Great Depression. Chicago’s leaders searched for ways to boost the economy as well as public spirit. President of Chicago’s State Street Council Walter Gregory proposed to organize a Christmas parade. Chicago Mayor Edward Kelly agreed to the idea, hoping that it would improve the city’s economy.

The inaugural Chicago Christmas Parade was held on December 7, 1934. As Kelly and his coworkers had hoped, the event did help to boost the local economy. The attendance was unexpectedly high which was both surprising and exciting as that day held dangerously low temperatures. You would expect that people would stay at home when it is –14 °F, but they preferred to attend the parade.

Over the years, the parade has become one of the city’s signature holiday events. McDonald’s became its title sponsor in 1984. The parade was renamed to the Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities Parade. The company remained the title sponsor until 1989. In 1990, Brach’s Confections took its place.

The parade was moved to Thanksgiving Day in 1999, when the discount retailer chain Target became one of its title sponsors (the other one was Marshall Field’s, an upscale department store). McDonald’s returned to title sponsorship in 2006.

The McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade takes place on State Street. It begins at Congress Parkway and moves north to Randolph Street. The parade features over a hundred different groups, commonly referred to as “units”. They are made up of helium and cold air balloons, specialty units (sports teams, dance groups and other groups with unique routines or skills), marching bands from all over the country, equestrian units, and beautifully decorated floats.

The parade has its mascot called Teddy Turkey which made his first live appearance in the 2009 event. Teddy Turkey has been among featured balloons several times. Other featured balloons that have been used in the parade include Scooby-Doo, Tweety Bird, Tazmanian Devil, Tom & Jerry, Woody Woodpecker, Yogi Bear, Cookie Monster, Garfield, Popeye, Kermit the Frog, and other pop culture characters.

McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade

Photo by Chicago Festival Association



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