A closer look at the Chicago Thanksgiving Parade

By Elizabeth Czapski, Staff Writer

The Chicago Thanksgiving Parade has been bringing joy to residents for decades. The event started in 1934 as a way give people a little happiness during the Great Depression and this year’s parade promises to be as joy-filled and as fun as ever, with a few modern flourishes.

What’s new…

Viewers should tune in on time because right in the very first hour of the Uncle Dan’s Outdoor Store Thanksgiving Parade will feature a performance by the Black Ensemble Theater. The performing arts group will offer a preview performance of their “Women of Soul” production, which runs through Jan. 13. The performance will include a special salute to Aretha Franklin as well as a celebration of some of the biggest stars of soul.

What’s returning…

Every parade features familiar balloons, floats and music. But how many have Wookies?

Yes, the The 501st Legion – Midwest Garrison is back again. In late October parade officials announced the return of the largest Star Wars costuming club in the area.

The star warriors will be joined in the parade by another group of relics—knights. Returning this year will be Medieval Times’ Knights of the Realm.

Also returning is the The Southland College Prep band, a college band that formed in 2010. The band has grown in recent years and is now considered one of the premier marching bands in the parade, boasting 100 members with 25 dancers to boot.

Speaking of bands, local favorite Kelly High School Marching Trojans will return to perform their 2018 winter festival show.

The grand marshal…

While this year’s grand marshal had not been announced by press time, Chicagoans and parade fans can expect the marshal to be beloved and a part of the city’s history. Past marshals have included Ronald McDonald (2017) (the company is headquartered in Chicago),Chicago native and actor Matt Walsh (2016) and Chicago native and wrestler CM Punk (2012).

For a complete list of what to expect, check out the parade website, www.chicagothanksgivingparade.com.

Behind the scenes…

Of course, there is more to the parade than the floats and smiles most people see. Amanda Caswell, who does public relations for the Chicago Thanksgiving Parade, provided some of the parade’s fun facts. Here’s a look behind the scenes at the parade:

In 2014, 400,000 people attended the parade — that’s almost equivalent to the entire population of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

That year, 2,500 gift bags were handed out.

There are 5,280 feet in the parade route, which is exactly one mile.

It’s a global phenomenon with 19 states, 16 countries and 23 different cultural groups were represented in the 2014 parade, making it a true international affair. Thanks to television coverage, the parade is annually available to approximately 80 million homes and viewed by millions around the world. In addition, many visitors come from around the world, from places like Switzerland, Mexico, Australia, Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Canada and beyond.

According to media reports of last year’s parade, there were around 5,000 parade participants, 1,300 volunteers, 15 floats of all kinds and 18 marching bands, according to numbers from Thrillist, the Chicago Tribune, and Patch.com.

Finally, about 200 people handled the parade’s balloons in the 2014 parade, and those balloons were filled with 39,500 cubic feet of helium.

For the record, in 2014 there were 70 members of the “poo crew,” who ensure State Street would not smell like manure after the parade was over.

The Chicago Thanksgiving Parade will take place on Nov. 22, 8–11 a.m. on State Street from Congress to Randolph. Don’t want to leave the house? Anyone can watch the parade live on WGN America and WGN9.

If you go…

Leave early and plan well. Streets will be blocked off for the parade route and parking will be tough, so give yourself lots of time. Public transportation will be running, though on a holiday schedule so if you take a train, check the schedule.

If you want a front row seat on State Street, good luck and set the alarm. It’s best to arrive by 7 a.m. to claim a spot, though there are usually spaces near State and Van Buren not too far from the Harold Washington Library. Expect train noise around that area.

 

The Chicago Thanksgiving Parade provided statistics from the 2014 event. Updated stats will be available after this year’s parade.

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