Astronaut Snoopy and gold start Macy's balloons

The first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was originally intended to be a Christmas Parade started by European immigrants to show off their new-found American pride. Today, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a New York tradition that is watched by over 50 million Americans all over the country. Whether you’re one of the millions lining the parade route in New York City or just tuning in from your kitchen, chances are you’re waiting to see what giant balloons are making an appearance this year.

With over 170 character balloons throughout the parade’s history, it’s these flying marvels of artistry and engineering that have made Macy’s the second biggest consumer of helium in America under the United States government.

1. There are three classes of balloons at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade

Rabbit balloon by Jeff Koons

Rabbit by Jeff Koons 2007 – 2nd Blue Sky Gallery Series Balloon. Photo courtesy Macy’s. 

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade features three balloon classes.

The Novelty Class is the oldest class and contains smaller balloons managed by anywhere from one to 30 handlers. There is also a subclass of Novelty Balloons called Ballooncicles, where balloon handlers ride bikes with the balloons attached to them. The smallest of the novelty balloons are designed to be worn over the heads of their handlers .

Full-Size Balloon Class are the balloons we all know and love. Today, these balloons are handled by about 90 people and are usually licensed cartoon, video game, or comic book characters.

The Blue Sky Class is the newest of the classes introduced in 2005 and conceptualized to take works of contemporary art and bring them to life as balloons. Examples of this class include Jeff Koon’s “Rabbit,” Keith Haring‘s “Figure with Heart,” and Takashi Murakami’s “Kaikai and Kiki.”