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How to watch the 2023 Thanksgiving Day Parade, and what you may not notice

The balloon magic of Macy’s annual parade is quietly underestimated

Luffy D. Monkey as a Thanksgiving parade balloon floating in the sky Photo: Macy’s, Inc/Getty Images
Matt Patches is an executive editor at Polygon. He has over 15 years of experience reporting on movies and TV, and reviewing pop culture.

Thanksgiving in the United States comes with a number of traditional televised events, but maybe none as seamless and low-key entertaining as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

This year marks the department store’s 97th parade down the streets of New York City, and the event once again promises floats, musical numbers, and big cartoon balloons, albeit with an extremely 2023 touch. Here’s what to know — and a few things you may never think about while watching.

How to watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade stream

The official telecast of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will air on NBC and be simulcast on Peacock. Today’s Savannah Guthrie, Hoda Kotb, and Al Roker will be back per usual to yap about the floats. A Spanish language simulcast will air on Telemundo, hosted by Carlos Adyan and Andrea Meza.

What time does the Thanksgiving Day Parade start

This year’s parade starts a little earlier than usual: the simulcast runs from 8:30 a.m. ET to 12 p.m. ET., but will also begin at 8:30 a.m. in all time zones, so no need to wake up at the crack of dawn. NBC will also air an encore of the parade at 2 p.m. ET.

The new parade balloons and how they got here

A balloon of Blue Cat & Chugs from the extremely popular Web3 thing Cool Cats Group. They’re giving a peace sign and floating in the sky Photo: Macy’s, Inc/Getty Images

This year’s balloon lineup sees a number of returning Giant and Novelty favorites, including Spongebob, Grogu, Bluey, and Smokey the Bear. The commerce of it all means a number of unfamiliar faces will join the lineup, too, including Leo, Adam Sandler’s 74-year-old lizard from the upcoming Netflix animated film; Uncle Dan, the mallard main character of Illumination’s new movie Migration; and Blue Cat & Chugs, the mascots of the Web3 company Cool Cats Group and the winner of a Macy’s contest to decide which NFT brand should earn a coveted character in the parade. 2023, baby! Anime continues its mainstream takeover as well, with legacy balloons Goku and Pikachu joined for the first time by One Piece’s Monkey D. Luffy.

Time has not just modernized the balloon characters, but the process itself. Kathleen Wright, Macy’s director of production operations, tells Polygon that the journey of devising a balloon, rendering it in inflatable form, then parading it along Central Park has taken on the quality of a Seal Team 6 operation. Computers allow designers to test balloon concepts in various weather conditions to determine the appropriate center of gravity and lift, all while minding the dimension requirements that allow it to float through New York.

In the week leading up to the parade, Wright and her team walk through the route with various city departments to size up potential hindrances for the buoyant stars, including any protruding lamp posts, which are manually swung in the opposite direction by city workers on the eve of the parade. On the day-of, the balloons — once made of rubber, but now built as modular polyurethane pieces that are heat sealed together and painted — are inflated with a combination of helium and regular air, based on required lift. Ninety handlers are assigned to each balloon, with 40-50 people securing the handling lines at any given time (and you thought pop stars were needy). By the time you watch the parade at home, a balloon’s “flight envelope” has been completely broken down and considered. There is no room for error, and based on Wright’s description, they don’t leave any.

The rest of the parade lineup

Along with the balloons and fleet of floats (including a sadly inedible Wonka one), the Thanksgiving Day Parade will once again tout a ton of talent shivering in their knickers while performing on the street. The show kicks off with a performance by Jon Batiste, with expected performances by Bell Biv DeVoe; Brandy; Chicago; En Vogue; David Foster and Katharine McPhee; Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors; Jessie James Decker; Ashley Park and the monsters of Sesame Street; Pentatonix; Paul Russell; Amanda Shaw and Alex Smith; and Manuel Turizo. Oh, and ENHYPEN will be there — so if you hear an inordinate amount of screaming from the crowd, it’s because the parade has gone full K-Pop, bless.

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