But most people don't realize that all of those floats and balloons have been dreamt up on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River since 1968.
While the balloons may be full of air, they do not suddenly appear out of thin air. These staples of the parade are born out of the hard work and dedication of a troop of skilled artisans, aeronautic experts, and balloon handlers who are at work year 'round bringing these icons of American popular culture to life every Thanksgiving morning, and it's all done in an unassuming warehouse, a former Tootsie Roll factory, tucked away in the northwest corner of Hoboken.
John Piper, an Ohio-born artist with a background in theatrical design, runs the studio, where he directs a crew of 24 artists, sculptors, and mold makers.
"This year is really a banner year for us," said Piper as he gave the press a tour of spacious warehouse full of fantasy, where employees were still busy putting the final touches on this year's creations. "This year we have more new floats than any of us can remember."
This year's parade will feature 42 floats and "falloons" (a combination of floats/ balloons), of which seven will be making their debut. The event will also feature 14 big balloons from the world of cartoons, movies, books, and games, of which four new balloons were made especially for this year's festivities.
Each fall, the department store abandons the shroud of secrecy that surrounds the studio and for one day only invites the press and hundreds of children from the tri-state area to visit and explore.
With boundless energy, Piper pointed out the most intricate components of the new floats and balloons for the children and press Tuesday. "One of the goals this year was to keep things very traditional and classic," he said. He immediately pointed to two important balloons: Jim Henson's Kermit the Frog, and "Charlie Brown and the Elusive Football," from United Feature Syndicate, Inc.
Kermit the Frog rejoins the parade after a 12-year hiatus. He was created in the Hoboken studio to celebrate the 25th anniversary of The Muppet Show. The famous frog will be 78 feet long, 36 feet wide and 61 feet tall, and will be filled with over 11,000 cubic feet of helium.
Charles Schulz's Charlie Brown is another classic character shaped this year. Piper noted that the usually self-deflated underachiever Charlie Brown, at 51 feet tall and filled with 13,330 cubic feet of helium, will for once rise to the occasion. But Piper, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, admitted that even after traveling over 50 blocks on Thanksgiving Day, the lovable loser will still never be able to kick that elusive football.
Also new to this year's parade are Mr. Monopoly, complete with moneybag, and Bill Cosby's Little Bill, a character in a book based on Cosby's experiences growing up in Philadelphia. According to Piper, it is the first African-American figure to be featured on a balloon in the Thanksgiving Parade.
For those who can't wait until Thursday morning to see the balloons inflate, visitors can head to 77th and 81st streets between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West on Thanksgiving eve from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. According to Piper, over 250,000 people visited the "Inflation Station" last year.
Seven new floats
Piper added that another focus of this year's parade is the kids. "We're making everything that a kid could ever dream about," he said. "It's pure imagination, like being a kid in a candy store, where all their fantasies can come true."
Piper then passed the Hershey's Kid's Candy Creation Lab. The 24-foot tall, 32-foot wide float is a life-sized creation that overflows with candy, such as giant lollipops, gumballs, and Hershey's Kisses.
Another float that Piper said he was particularly proud of was the Lego Carousel of Imagination, which featured a working carousel made of huge Lego blocks.
Once finished, all of the floats collapse to the size of no more that 12.5 feet tall and eight feet wide to be easily maneuvered through the narrow city streets and Lincoln Tunnel. According to Piper, at exactly midnight on Thanksgiving Eve, the convoys of floats will be transported from the Hoboken studio to the parade starting line on Central Park West. (The balloons are brought the day before.)
The 76th annual Thanksgiving Day Parade will begin at 77th Street and Central Park West on Thursday, Nov. 22 at 9 a.m. The parade will wind its way down to Herald Square and the Macy's Department Store. For more information call (212) 494-4495.<./I>