Ever since the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade debuted in 1924, there have been only three years in which the event was not held: 1942, 1943 and 1944. World War II was raging and there was a shortage of helium, a gas used to lift blimps because, unlike hydrogen, it is not flammable.

U.S. Navy blimps escorted thousands of ships during the war, and were used to lower listening devices into the water to scan for submarines. That was deemed a much more important use for the available helium than filling large balloons for a parade.

But the parade resumed in 1945, and has been a Thanksgiving Day staple ever since.

So even as other large parades in New York were cancelled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, planning for the Macy’s parade continued. Organizers for both Macy’s and NBC-TV began weighing options in mid-March when the first widespread shutdowns were enacted, and revamped the “script” numerous times as Thanksgiving Day approached.

Finally, it was decided that the show had to go on. After all, the parade serves as the unofficial beginning of the holiday shopping season, not to mention a major tourism marketing tool for New York City.

But it definitely was different.

Rather than millions of people lining a two-mile parade route, crowds were banned and the “procession” was limited to Herald Square and the area immediately surrounding the flagship Macy’s department store.

Instead of 26 floats, there were 18.

Instead of 16 giant balloons, there were 12.

Instead of 2,000 balloon handlers, there were 130.

In a normal year, 8,000 people would work the parade route. This year, about 960 people were utilized over a three-day period for a partially pre-taped and partially live television production.

“We are thrilled that the Go Bowling ‘balloonicles’ were part of the live show, and even more thrilled that Al Roker did such a wonderful job of representing the Go Bowling brand and bowling in general,” said John Harbuck, President of Strike Ten Entertainment, which serves as the marketing and sponsorship arm of bowling.

“Al handled our messaging — that bowling is a fun and safe family activity — perfectly, and the way he interacted with the ‘balloonicles’ was amazing.”

More on the parade, including projected ratings and photos, is included in the January issue of BCM.

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