Elf Balloons have been a part of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade since the late 1940s.
The primary elf balloons to appear in the parade are Kit, Charlie & C.J. Elf. They are recreations of a gnome balloon who made its debut in the Macy’s seasonal celebration in 1947. Now a regular part of Macy’s Parade Elf Family, these charming holiday balloons measure 34-feet high, 18.5-feet wide, and are filled with 2,100 cubic feet of helium.
The Macy’s Elves escort Santa’s sleigh at the end of each parade. The elves signal the coming of Santa Claus and the end of the annual celebration.
As Macy’s Parade headed toward a new millennium, other enchanted characters were introduced into the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as companions for their Macy Elves.
- Sky Dancers (1995) – The spinning, flying pixie toys known as Sky Dancers were wildly popular in the 1990s and sold 15 million units, but they were recalled in 2000 after 150 injuries were reported.
- Shrek (2007) – Dreamwork’s green-skinned ogre, Shrek from Far Far Away floats above the crowds dressed in his signature woodsman outfit complete with oatmeal sweater, plaid pants and brown vest. His balloon stands at 44-feet tall, 47-feet long and 39.3-feet wide and is filled with over 14,130 cubic feet of helium.
- Abby Cadabby (2007) – With her wand at the ready, Abby Cadabby, the inquisitive fairy-in-training on Sesame Street stands 56 feet long, 37.5 feet wide, and 48.5 feet high and filled with 16,100 cubic feet of helium.
- Smurf (2008) – Blue-skinned creatures created by cartoonist Peyo known as The Smurfs measured 57.6-feet long, 38.7-feet wide and 47-feet tall was filled with 15,050 cubic feet of helium on Parade day. The over-sized Smurf flew above the parade to announce the upcoming movie “The Smurfs” (2011). Smurfs also appeared on the “Smurf’s Mushroom House” float the same year.
- Papa Smurf (2013/14) – The Sony Pictures Animation Papa Smurf balloon wished a Happy Smurfgiving to one and all when it debuted in the holiday parade to celebrate the movie “Smurfs 2” (2013). His balloon measured 51-feet tall, 36-feet wide and 46-feet long. The Papa Smurf balloon floated down Central Park West during the 87th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York November 28, 2013.
- Elf on the Shelf (2013) – Santa’s favorite scouting elf, (aka,”Chippey”) was the focus of the “Elf of the Shelf” Christmas book. Sent by Santa Claus to watch and report the naughty/nice behaviors of little boys and girls around the world, the Elf on the Shelf balloon measured 46 feet tall, 28 feet wide and 64 feet long in the Parade line-up. Chippey was the star of animated feature film “An Elf’s Story: The Elf on the Shelf” (2011).
- Big Man Santa (2013) – A balloon dedicated to the jolly old elf himself, the Big Man Santa balloon measures 26-feet in height and 21-feet in width for his Thanksgiving flight. Big Man Santa balloon later headed south for the winter to star in Macy’s Holiday Parade at Universal Orlando® Resort. Earlier in Macy’s history, there were other large balloons of Santa Claus. The new Big Man Santa balloon harkens back to those days.
In addition to the elf balloons, a float entitled “The Elves Raise the Roof” sponsored by Office Max featured a number of costumed elves who broke into a dance performance to the delight of the holiday viewers during the 2010 yuletide season. And performers from the hit Broadway musical adaptation of the movie “Elf” about Buddy the elf sang and danced in the streets of New York City in 2010.
In 2011, to kick off the 85th Anniversary of Thanksgiving Day celebration in 2011, Macy’s introduced the “Macy’s Great American Elf Adventure.
“Since 1947, the iconic Macy’s elf balloons have been fan favorites and for generations have served as an emblem of the Macy’s Parade. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a key element of America’s favorite parade is one that aspiring artists should not miss. We can’t wait to see all the inspired creations and look forward to the winning design joining the rest of the Macy’s elf family in the Parade this year.” – Amy Kule, the executive producer of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Participants in “Macy’s Great American Elf Adventure were invited to scavenger hunt: little white elves were hidden throughout Macy’s stores all over the country, and customers were asked to find them, take them home, decorate them, and upload a picture of their decorated elf to Macy’s Facebook Page. At the same time, users went online to create, submit, and advocate for their own Elf as a candidate for a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Macy’s Elf-Apolooza also nhit the road to 10 American cities in a cross-country road trip to visit fans. Starting on Aug. 9 in New York City and Jackson, Miss., the elves and some helpers hit the road and visited Los Angeles (Aug. 11); Omaha, Neb. (Aug. 12); Detroit, Mich. (Aug. 13); Little Rock, Ark. (Aug. 14); Greenville, S.C. (Aug. 17); Des Moines, Iowa (Aug. 18); El Paso, Texas (Aug. 19), and Anchorage, Alaska (Aug. 20). At each Macy’s Elf-Apolooza visitation, elves were distributed to fans from a custom-designed mobile unit, along with Macy’s parade items and other giveaways.
A panel of judges from Macy’s Parade & Entertainment Group narrowed the 1000 entries down to the Top 85. The 85 entries were then posted to Macy’s Facebook page on Tuesday, 30 August for fans and friends to begin voting for their favorite elf. The winning design was transformed into a helium balloon by Macy’s Parade Studio. The winning artist and three guests received a trip to New York City to see the Parade live and enjoy their elf’s maiden flight in the holiday spectacular.
The winner of the contest was an elf called Gazer (the elf that helps guide all the Christmas wishes to the North Pole). It was designed by Keith Lapinig, a graphic artist from Queens’ Sleepy’s mattress company. His vision for a giant balloon of a Macy’s Parade was an elf with a wishing star on his hat. As he told reporters, “I saw it had a round body and a round face…so I thought of the moon…I had the New York skyline at the bottom and I love doing clouds as well. I wanted to incorporate the Macy’s logo, so I kept that as well.”
NOTE: Since its inception in 1924, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade attracts more than 3 million live spectators and over 50 million viewers across the country.
During World War II (1942-1944), The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was suspended. Their parade balloons were recycled and donated for use in the war effort.
In 2012, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade App allowed viewers to interact with the parade in real-time. Developed by MyCityWay, the app lets users follow the procession of floats down city streets by tapping into traffic cameras along the route.
An app called Elf-O-Matic allowed spectators to transform themselves into an Elf balloon and share the experience with friends. Macy’s also partnered with zeebox to present the parade on second screens. The free app allows viewers to watch the parade on mobile devices and also features behind-the scenes parade content.
Tinker Bell the Fairy can be seen in the Festival of Fantasy Parade on the Peter Pan float in the Magic Kingdom in Disney World in Florida.
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
Macy’s Herald Square
151 W. 34th St. (34th St. at Broadway)
New York, NY 10001