The annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Balloon Inflation wasn’t always an event that drew tens of thousands of visitors to the Upper West Side. It used to be something semi-secret that took place in the dark and cold one night each year just around the corner from Central Park West.
For decades the night before Thanksgiving on the Upper West Side was festive but low-key and local. It was a great night to meet friends at neighborhood restaurants, in the bars you’d loved all through college and, with any luck, at the cocktail parties taking place in apartments above where Macy’s balloon crews worked through the night on West 77th Street.
At the end of the night, it was always fun to stop by for a few minutes to catch sight of Snoopy, Underdog and Casper the Friendly Ghost billowing into shape in the dark. If it wasn’t too cold you might find yourself sharing the sidewalks near the American Museum of Natural History with a few hundred neighbors at most, everyone spaced along the stretch of street between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West.
It wasn’t until just before sunrise each Thanksgiving Day that Upper West Side streets would begin to fill with parade-goers making their way toward Central Park West.
Today, pre-Thanksgiving eve on the Upper West Side is no longer local or low key. Instead, people from around the world and across the country crowd the neighborhood’s sidewalks for hours for an event that has become a must-do holiday tradition for all. It's become such a crowded night that many neighborhood locals skip it all together, preferring to leave town the night before or stay at home having food delivered.
There’s no more casual stopping by West 77th Street on the Wednesday prior to the parade – there’s a wait, a line and a strict order to things that didn’t exist before. Still, the magic of the night endures carrying with it the power to make everyone feel like a child and even the most hard-edged New Yorker feel a little giddy.
I highly recommend going to see the Macy's Thanksgiving Balloon Inflation at least once even if you aren't a fan of huge crowds.
Here, a few tips that will make the event a lot easier and much more fun and here a complete listing of additional NYC holiday must-dos you that you will want to add to your winter calendar.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!