Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Wiki

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Tom Turkey is the oldest, most famous, and longest-running float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and is the Parade's unofficial mascot. Tom is an animated Thanksgiving turkey who ushers in the famed holiday spectacle with flapping wings, a bobbing head, and blinking eyes, thanks to a series of cables, levers, and pulleys. Tom Turkey generally serves as the lead float, bookending the event with Santa Claus, whose arrival to Macy's Herald Square marks the unofficial start of the holiday season.

Having taken part in the Parade since 1973, Tom Turkey is a regular fan favorite, second only to Santa. Over the course of four decades, the beloved gobbler has undergone three major design changes and boasted an abundance of celebrity appearances. As the Parade’s unofficial mascot, Tom also appears in advertisements for the event alongside original characters such as the Elf Family, Cloe the Holiday Clown, and Harold the Fireman.

History with the Macy's Parade[]

Turkey (1973-2017)[]

Tom Turkey (known at the time as simply the Turkey) made his debut in the 1973 Macy’s Parade, kicking off that year’s fleet of fantasy floats. Construction on the gobbler began earlier that year at the Macy’s Parade Studio, with design work going as far back as November 1972. A mix of fiberglass and paper maché was used to bring the fowl to a larger-than-life reality.

The centerpiece of the two-tiered float was a 21-foot tall Thanksgiving turkey, sculpted in part by artist Manfred Bass,[1] dressed as a traditional pilgrim. The turkey’s 20-foot wide tailfeathers sprawled across the back of the float in colors of yellow, orange, brown, white, and blue. Inside the float, a team of three controlled a series of cables, levers, and pulleys that allowed the turkey to flap his wings, bob his head, and blink his eyes[2]—joining the turkey as float escorts were friendly folks from down on the farm.  

In 1974, the Turkey float was updated to include fiberglass pumpkins and hay bales at the base of the float, where float escorts (now with children dressed as a variety of barn animals) waved to participants excitedly. A happy pilgrim couple sat at the float’s highest point and wished spectators a Happy Thanksgiving.[3]

By 1975, the Turkey float became an integral part of the Parade and was promoted to the lead position, which it has held every year since with few exceptions. The float also served as a stage for some of the biggest names in country music, including Dolly Parton, Charley Pride, and The Oak Ridge Boys.

The float remained virtually unchanged over the next decade, except for the addition of a ribbon-laced title plaque that was placed at the front of the float in 1982. The sign lasted less than a decade and was removed from the float after the 1990 Parade.

The Turkey float received a makeover for the 1993 Parade, just in time for its 21st appearance in the famed holiday spectacle. The two-story Tom put on his pilgrim hat and dusted off his fanned tailfeathers, which received a fresh paint job in fall colors of orange, brown, green, and yellow. The rest of the turkey also received an updated color palette, switching out his blue hat and bowtie for one in burgundy. Once again, square-dancing farm folk tied together the Thanksgiving tableau.

In 1994, the Butterball Turkey Company furnished the float to promote the brand’s line of frozen turkeys and turkey products. The following year, returning under Macy’s branding and having survived nearly 25 Thanksgiving dinners, the turkey’s float captain, Nick Vizone, named him “the most agile turkey in the world.”[4]

For the Parade’s 70th anniversary celebrations in 1996, the turkey would find a new identity as Thomas T. Turkey–or Tom Turkey for short. A colonial-garbed entourage joined Tom Turkey in 1997 and 1998, as the previous float escort costumes were being used on the Annabelle’s Wish float.

In 1999, Tom Turkey became an ambassador for Hunger-Free Holiday, a fundraising campaign that enabled the new Macy’s Parade website (the float’s sponsor that year) to fill the nation’s food banks for the holidays.[5] Furthermore, the float received a new red skirt, turquoise fringe, and a roped fence around the float’s base. The farm animal float escorts returned, joining new pilgrim costumes that had previously been used for the Pilgrim Man & Woman Toy Floats.

Ever the gracious host, Tom Turkey gave up his leading position in the 2001 Parade to the Statue of Liberty float, commemorating those lost as a result of the September 11th attacks.[6] That same year, celebrating the procession’s diamond jubilee, Tom wore a coveted blue award ribbon and a party balloon cockade in his hat, both emblemed with the number 75.

Tom Turkey flew the coop in 2003, taking a Thanksgiving off for the first time in two decades. The choice of not including Tom in that year’s lineup proved controversial, as several officials and organizers were not aware of the float’s absence until Parade day. In place of the feathered friend was a recreation of the Gorgeous Gobbler balloon that flew in the 1950's and 60's.

The float would come back for the 2004 Parade and be sponsored by Big3 Entertainment, gobbling about the news of the Country Music Association bringing its annual show to New York City in 2005. Now escorting Tom down Broadway were 20 square dancers and 14 “farmer” kids.

In 2008, the float’s base was updated to include orange fringe and a float skirt that paid homage to Native American artwork. Along for the ride were 28 grateful, but hungry pilgrims.

Food Network took over sponsorship of the Tom Turkey float for the 2009 Parade and presented a trio of its celebrity chefs who were also contributors to the network’s magazine. Several other celebrity chefs would take the wild turkey trot through Manhattan, including Alton Brown and Geoffrey Zakarian. The Food Network would sponsor the float through 2012 except for 2011 when its subsidiary, the Cooking Channel, was named its sponsor).

In 2017, Bravo’s Top Chef sponsored the Tom Turkey float, featuring a regal pairing of television’s ultimate foodies and featured stars of Top Chef, judge Padma Lakshmi, and Chef Tom Colicchio.

Balloonicle[]

Tom Turkey was introduced as an all-new balloonicle to the Macy’s Holiday Parade at Universal Orlando Resort for the 2015 Christmas season. Former senior director of the Macy’s Parade Studio, John Piper, spoke of the balloonicle’s introduction, saying “we felt that there was just one thing missing from the Parade that could complete it…and that’s leading it with a turkey.”[7]

Reaching into their heritage, Macy’s took the design of Tom Turkey–his fanned tailfeathers and traditional pilgrim attire–and redesigned it to include a holiday flair. The balloonicle led the seasonal procession during its 2015 and 2016 iterations, before being retired as a result of the parade’s rebranding into Universal’s Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s.

Following its retirement from the Holiday Parade, the Tom Turkey cold-air inflatable was perched upon the memorial marquee of Macy’s Herald Square as a backdrop for NBC’s broadcast of the Parade, a position it remains in annually as of 2021.

Tom Turkey (2018-present)[]

The Tom Turkey float was completely revamped for the 2018 Parade, with everything below the turkey figure being completely new. Costume shop director Kimberly Montgomery and former Parade concept artist Jennifer Palmer worked together on the redesign,[8] which featured Tom on a three-tiered float, accented with a pattern of fall leaves and gold fringe. Decked out in autumnal hues, Tom Turkey’s brilliant plumage was preened and given a fresh coat of paint with light-catching metallic colors and glitter sprinkled throughout.

Everyone’s festive gobbling friend would make his way down the Parade route that year as a self-propelled float, thanks to the special rigging and horsepower of Ram Trucks.[9] The float was also accompanied by a group of autumn leaves, Macy’s Starlets carrying illuminated signage, and exuberant cheerleaders. Tom was welcome onto 34th Street with a flurry of leaf-shaped confetti as he ignited his tailfeathers with pyrotechnics. A trio of Opening Macy’s Star balloons provided a gold backdrop to a magical moment.

In 2019, the float was given a minor refurbishment to add even more sparkle. Gold trim was added to the float’s tiers with sparkling stars throughout, and the Macy’s Starlets showed off their new costumes covered in crystals and fall leaves.

Tom Turkey made a special appearance in the scaled-down 2020 Parade, kicking off the event, as always, as the title float. Aboard were five of America's frontline workers that risked their lives and health to help others during the tumultuous year of 2020.

The Tom Turkey float returned to strut down the streets of New York City in 2021, celebrating the 95th anniversary of the Parade. A special "95" emblem was placed on his hat, and a star was added where his necktie once was. Having carved a permanent place in the annual extravaganza,

In 2022, Tom's pilgrim hat was removed as part of an effort to further Indigenize the Parade. In its place, Tom Turkey wore a blue top hat to signify his position as the Parade's grand marshal. Accompanying Tom for the 2022 parade was Mario Lopez, along with his family. As usual, Tom once again opened up the 2023 Parade, as he led the parade down the route to 34th street, surrounded by tons of confetti and the usual exuberant cheerleaders.

Guest Stars[]

Listed below are the guest stars that have appeared/performed on the float, alongside the respective songs which they sang during the NBC Parade telecast.

Turkey (1973)[]

Tom Turkey (2018)[]

Appearances in popular culture[]

  • Stock footage of the original Tom Turkey float was shown in the 1992 show, Love & War during the Season 2 Episode 10 titled "I Love a Parade".
  • The Tom Turkey float, alongside many other Parade units such as the Jolly Polly Pirate Ship and the Yellow Macy's Stars, were among some of the items that made a cameo in the 2011 film, Tower Heist.
  • In the MAD episode "The Bourne Leg-A-Turkey", during the ending scene, when the Talking Turkey was driving his motorcycle upon freedom, he notices a road closure for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade taking place, with Tom Turkey making a cameo in the scene. Coincidentally, in this segment, Tom Turkey was seen as a self-propelled float bearing the Parade's logo on it, yet this feature would later be used for the real float in 2018.

See also[]

References[]

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