Chicago's Thanksgiving Day Parade 80 years young

Written By Sun-Times Wire Posted: 11/26/2013, 01:05pm

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It’s part of the very fabric of Chicago.

And it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without it.

“It” is the annual McDonald’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which is celebrating its 80th anniversary with Thursday’s parade step off at 8 a.m. at Congress and State Street (heading north to Randolph; the parade ends at 11 a.m.).

"Teddy Turkey" is the official mascot of Chicago's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and only one of the many giant character balloons to be featured in Thursday's parade.

“Teddy Turkey” is the official mascot of Chicago’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and only one of the many giant character balloons to be featured in Thursday’s parade.

This year’s Grand Marshall is Drew Sidora (starring as Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins in VH1’s biopic about TLC, “CrazySexyCool”). This year’s milestone extravaganza will feature morethan 100 groups, including a dozen character balloons — including the official parade mascot Teddy Turkey — marching bands from across the country, festive floats, cultural groups, equestrian riders, theatrical performances and celebrity guests. More than 1,000 volunteers will be on-hand to make it all move like clockwork. And of course, Santa Claus will officially arrive, too.

Kermit the Frog made an appearance in Chicago's 2003 Thanksgiving Day Parade. | SUN-TIMES PHOTO

Kermit the Frog made an appearance in Chicago’s 2003 Thanksgiving Day Parade. | SUN-TIMES PHOTO

Among the dozen character balloons, are the world premieres of Foofa, Garfield and Pooky and Pac-Man.

Scheduled performances include selections from: Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey; “Million Dollar Quartet,” Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” Pastor Fredrick Wilson & Chicago’s Christian Choir, the Joffrey Ballet’s “Nutcracker,” the Tsukasa Taiko Drummer, “A Christmas Carol — The Musical” and more. More than 20 marching bands from across the country will also entertain. And the iconic Budweiser Clydesdales will also make an appearance (as will 13 other equestrian troupes).

Originally known as the “Christmas Caravan” (to usher in the Christmas season) when it was officially established in 1934, the parade was created to “lift the spirits of residents suffering through the Great Depression,” according to a prepared statement from the event’s producers.

The Christmas Caravan parade of 1937. PHOTO COURTESY OF CHICAGO PUBLIC LIBRARY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS AND PRESERVATION

The Christmas Caravan parade of 1937. PHOTO COURTESY OF CHICAGO PUBLIC LIBRARY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS AND PRESERVATION

Here are some historical fun facts about Chicago’s Thanksgiving Day Parade courtesy of the Chicago Festival Association:

1934 – Walter Gregory, president of the State Street Council, creates the State Street Christmas Caravan in order to stimulate economic development for the street and cheer Chicagoans up during the Depression era. Held on December 7, the Caravan consisted of toys and merchandise from stores all along State Street.

1969 – More than 1.5 million people lined the parade route.

1981 – One hundred Santas hand out more than 10,000 balloons as hundreds of thousands watch the parade.

1984 – The Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities® Parade is formed and the parade route is moved from State Street to Michigan Avenue. McDonald’s® sponsored the parade from 1984-1989.

1990 – The Brach’s Kid’s Holiday Parade is created when Brach’s Confections, Inc. assumes the position of title sponsor.

Santa Claus (shown here in 2003 at the 70th annual parade) will arrive in Chicago during Thursday's Thanksgiving Day Parade. | SUN-TIMES PHOTO

Santa Claus (shown here in 2003 at the 70th annual parade) will arrive in Chicago during Thursday’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. | SUN-TIMES PHOTO

1998 – Marshall Field’s takes over as title sponsor of the parade and the Field’s Jingle Elf Parade is created. The Radio City Rockettes begin their three-year opening run as the opening act for the parade’s television broadcast.

1998 – The parade begins building and debuting giant character balloons. Beginning with Kermit and Billy Blazes, the Chicago Thanksgiving Parade has introduced more recognizable character balloons since this time than any other parade in the country.

1999 – The parade is moved from Michigan Avenue to its original route on State Street and produced on Thanksgiving Day for the first time.

2001 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey becomes the parade’s new opening act and introduces the first elephant to appear in the parade.

2003 – The parade is renamed the State Street Thanskgiving Parade. The parade presents its first-ever unit from Hawaii, the E la Ka Hololio Me Ke Kahiau, a traditional Hawaiian equestrian unit from Kailua, Hawaii.

2004 – The City of Zurich (Switzerland) Police Band makes its Chicago debut as the first international unit ever to appear in the parade.

2006 – Close to half a million spectators line Chicago’s State Street for the McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade on one of the warmest Thanksgiving mornings in memory.

2007 – WGN-TV broadcasts the McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade live and in high definition on WGN-TV9 and WGN-DT 9.1. Superstation WGN, available in approximately 72 million homes at the time, airs the parade nationally. This establishes the McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade as one of three parades in the country to be covered live, in its entirety, on a national television broadcast.

For more information about the this year’s McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade visit www.chicagofestivals.org.

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