When it comes to Turkey Day for many people the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is nearly as important as the bird, friends and family, and football. Well, maybe not football. At any rate, this year marks the 90th anniversary of the iconic parade and there is a huge history with animals and the parade right from the start. Chances are that this event will be a part of your holiday.

Elephants from the first Macy's Parade
Elephants from the first Macy's Parade

Image via AM New York

When the parade started back in 1924 it was originally named the Macy's Christmas Parade. It had a strong circus atmosphere, including an assortment of live animals including elephants, lions, tigers, and bears (oh, my!). There were also other animals like monkeys, goats, donkeys, and camels. This collection of live animals was on loan from the Central Park Zoo.

Felix the Cat was one of Macy's first balloons.
Felix the Cat was one of Macy's first balloons.

Image via AM New York

These animals were unaccustomed to the unusual activity and were surly and badly behaved. Their roars and growls frightened children along the parade route. In 1927 the live animals were out and the first balloon animals were in. This included Felix the Cat, a popular cartoon character at the time, a dragon, and an elephant were added to the parade instead. Felix is credited with being the first balloon animal in the parade's history.

An early dog-shaped balloon.
An early dog-shaped balloon.

Image via AM New York

For several years during the 1930s the balloons were released into the air at the end of the parade. The address was on the balloons for people to return them. For a few of those years Macy's offered a $25.00 reward for the return. During the Great Depression that was quite a sum of money. One guy went so far as to nab a balloon in mid-flight with his plane.

A dragon balloon from the 1930s.
A dragon balloon from the 1930s.

Image via tumblr

The original parade was an exhausting (almost) 6 miles long and has since been reduced to a more reasonable 2.5 miles to make it easier to televise. With the shortening of the route came the lengthening of the parade itself and the continuing addition of more and more balloons -- many of them in animal shapes.

A turkey early in the parade and Underdog.
A turkey early in the parade and Underdog.

Image via Wikimedia

The parade is started by a giant turkey float (actually a "falloon," a combination float and balloon) and ended with Santa and his reindeer. In 1933 they tried beginning the parade with Santa, but it didn't seem to work well and Santa has brought up the rear ever since. If you've been trying to do the math of how they get 90 parades between 1924 and 2016 it is because the parade was cancelled for a few years during World War II and the rubber from the balloons was donated to the war effort.

Santa Claus and his annual visit to the Macy's Parade.
Santa Claus and his annual visit to the Macy's Parade.

Image via AM New York

In 1946 the parade was used in the filming of Miracle on 34th Street (1947) and it really was actor Edmund Gwenn, who played Santa in the film, at the reindeer reins. In 1958 there was a helium shortage and the balloons were hoisted on cranes to make the parade journey. Macy's is the second largest consumer of helium in the country, right behind the U.S. Government.

SeaWorld's Orca Float
SeaWorld's Orca Float

Photo by Mel Evans, AP.  Image via National Geographic

Even though the use of live animals in the parade ended in 1927 the parade has not been without controversy. In 2013 the organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) called SeaWorld's Orca Float "an endorsement of animal suffering" and asked Macy's to remove it from the parade. Even though the float portrayed the whales in the wild, PETA pointed out the contrast to the whales that have died while in captivity at SeaWorld. Macy's declared that the float was "entertainment" and kept the float in the parade.

Santa Goofy
Santa Goofy from 1992

Image via Columbus Dispatch

Even though there are a number of balloons that have depicted Disney characters, this parade is hardly a Mickey Mouse operation. It takes a full year to plan and prepare every detail.

Check out this look back at animals in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade over the years:

Mickey Mouse
In 1934 the Mickey Mouse balloon required 25 handlers. These days the large balloons require a team of 90 handlers. Mickey and Felix the Cat were big competitors at the time.

Image via NY Daily News

Dachshund Balloon
A dachshund from 1950. Is anyone else craving a hot dog right now? At least this doxie looks better than the earlier version.

Image via NY Daily News

Bullwinkle J. Moose
In 1963 Bullwinkle J. Moose showed off his beach ensemble. I think he's headed for a dip in Veronica Lake.

Image via NY Daily News

Dino the Dinosaur
In 1963 the Sinclair Oil Dino the Dinosaur debuted. In 1975 the balloon was inducted into the Museum of Natural History as an honorary member. He was retired in 1976. A new version of the old pre-historic boy was brought out in 2015.

Image via Fandom

Snoopy the World War I Flying Ace
There have been seven different Snoopy balloons in the parade since 1967. Here he is as the famous World War I flying ace out to take on the Red Baron.

Image via Fandom

Smokey the Bear
In 1969 a 58-foot-tall Smokey the Bear reminded everyone to prevent forest fires. Of course, I don't know how many forest fires get started on Thanksgiving Day, but he's still a fun bear anyway.

Image via NY Daily News

Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse
In 1972 Donald Duck was becoming a bit deflated over his parade experience after a dangerous brush with a tree branch. It's a good thing his pal Mickey Mouse has his back.

Image via NY Daily News

Linus the Lion and Happy Dragon
Linus the Lion and Happy Dragon in 1973. If he's so happy why does he look so miserable?

Image via NY Daily News

Bugs Bunny
Bugs Bunny became a big star of the parade in the 1980s.

Image via Pinterest

The Pink Panther
In 1996 the Pink Panther became a Macy's lifeguard. He certainly is looking in the pink there, isn't he?

Image via NY Daily News

Blue the Dog
In 1999 Blue the Dog from Blue's Clues made his debut in the parade.

Image via NY Daily News

Happy Hippo
"I want a Hippopotamus for Christmas!" Happy Hippo debuted in 2000 and was retired in 2006. It was brought back in 2013.

Image via Fandom

Kermit the Frog
In 2002 Kermit the Frog made his reappearance and it is discovered that it isn't easy being green handlers.

Image via NY Daily News

Garfield and his Pookie Bear were featured in the 2003 parade.
The lasagna-loving cartoon cat, Garfield and his Pookie Bear, were featured in the 2003 parade.

Image via NY Daily News

Super Cute Hello Kitty
Super Cute Hello Kitty appeared in the parade from 2007 through 2011.

Image via Fandom

Paddington Bear
Paddington Bear made his first appearance as a full-sized balloon in 2014. Before that he had spent several years in the parade as a "falloon," which is a combination of a float and a balloon. This full-size balloon came out in conjunction with the release of the movie.

Image via Fandom

Trixie the Dog and Felix the Cat
Trixie the Dog and a new Felix the Cat will debut this year in the 2016 parade.

Image via Fandom

Here is a brief history of the parade overall:

Sources: AM New York, NYC Tourist, History, National Geographic, Fandom

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