Saturday, November 26, 2016

America's Thanksgiving Day Parade!

Welcome to Heroes, Heroines, & History! I’m Michele K. Morris, thank you for joining me on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Regardless if you celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with a house full family and/or friends while indulging in a home cooked feast, or you spend a quiet day reflecting on what you’re thankful for, a few things on Thanksgiving Day are traditional for many Americans.

One is good food—and lots of it. Another is an overwhelming abundance of T.V. ads for Black Friday shopping, and a third—Thanksgiving Day parades televised from around the country.

I have very fond childhood memories of waking up on Thanksgiving morning to my mom in the kitchen, and parades on the T.V. My brother and I would watch the gigantic, character shaped balloons, the high school marching bands, the elaborate floats with smiling participants waving their greetings, and celebrity musical entertainment. But the best part was when Santa appeared to usher in the Christmas season. 

Being from Michigan, my favorite parade to watch was America’s
Thanksgiving Day Parade which took place on Woodward Avenue in downtown Detroit. In 1924 the J.L. Hudson Company department store started the Thanksgiving tradition. The parade is the second longest running Thanksgiving Day parade in the US, tied with New York City’s Macy's Thanksgiving Day. The longest running parade is the Dunkin' Donuts Thanksgiving Day Parade in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania which began in 1920.

The original idea for a holiday parade came from the J.L. Hudson Department Store’s display director Charles Wendel after he saw the success of similar Canadian celebrations. The parade ran every year from 1924 until a short reprieve in 1943 and 1944 due to shortages from World War 2.
J.L. Hudson Department Store

Then, in 1979, when the costs became burdensome for the floundering J.L. Hudson Department Store, the store gave the parade responsibilities to the Detroit Renaissance Foundation. This organization produced it for four years until 1983. At this time the Detroit Renaissance shifted control of the parade to the newly created Michigan Thanksgiving Parade Foundation. "America's Thanksgiving Parade" is a registered trademark of this foundation.

A fun and unique feature of Detroit’s parade is a yearly performance by The Big Head Corps. These “Bobble Head” style, papier-mâché costumes where brought to the parade by its founder, Charles Wendle. He saw similar costumes during a trip to Europe and wanted to incorporate them into Detroit’s parade. As of 2015, they still march each year. The heads are hand-made in Viareggio, Italy.

Another fun tradition is the Distinguished Clown Corps. This is a group of local corporate and community leaders dressed as clowns. What a great way to involve the community leaders with the public.

Until 1979, while Hudson’s department store sponsored the parade, the travel route began at Woodward and Putnam near the Detroit Public Library and ended near Gratiot Avenue at Hudson's Marquee. There, Santa would stop his sleigh, alight the steps, and the mayor would present him with the key to the city and to “the hearts of children of Detroit”.

The first broadcast of America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was on the radio station WWJ in 1931. Then in 1959 it came to T.V. on Detroit’s local channels. The WXYZ program was hosted by ventriloquist and puppeteer Shari Lewis and her sock puppet Lamb Chop and transmitted nationwide on the ABC broadcast system.
Shari Lewis and sock puppet, Lamb Chop 
Over the years, other famous celebrities were commentators for the Detroit parades, including John Amos, Ned Beatty, Captain Kangaroo host Bob Keeshan, Linda Lavin, Esther Rolle and Andrew Stevens. The parade is made possible through the labors of more than 4,500 volunteers.

Have you ever attended a live Thanksgiving Parade? Do you have any Thanksgiving memories to share in the comments below? Or perhaps a fun story about this or another Thanksgiving?

Though Thanksgiving 2016 is in our past, we can continue to give thanks for our many blessings. I pray each of you has a safe, joyous, and blessed Christmas and New Year’s season. 

Thank you for joining me here at today!

Happy Thanksgiving!


Award winning author, Michele K. Morris’s love for historical fiction began when she first read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House book series. She grew up riding horses and spending her free time in the woods of mid-Michigan. Married to her high school sweetheart, they are living happily-ever-after with their six children, three in-loves, and six grandchildren in Florida, the sunshine state. Michele loves to hear from readers on Facebook, Twitter, and through the group blog, Heroes, Heroines, and History at 


  1. Thanks for sharing. Those bobble heads used to freak me out. The parade was broadcast on the radio? Parades are a "visual" event......I can't imagine just listening to someone talking about it.

  2. Good morning! I wondered the same thing about broadcasting a parade on the radio. The announcer must have had an amazing talent for description! Thank you for stopping by and have a wonderful day.