The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade by the Numbers

42 Tons of Trash, 50 Million Viewers and One Santa Claus

By Emily Feldman
|  Wednesday, Nov 23, 2011  |  Updated 10:25 AM CDT
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The annual Thanksgiving parade is just a day away! Get a preview of the spectacle and prepare for 85th annual parade that airs on NBC at 9am, in all times zones, on Turkey Day.

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The annual Thanksgiving parade is just a day away! Get a preview of the spectacle and prepare for 85th annual parade that airs on NBC at 9am, in all times zones, on Turkey Day.

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If the thought of preparing Thanksgiving dinner overwhelms you, consider the efforts that go into the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The annual event, kicking off at 9 a.m. Eastern time Thursday and airing on NBC, lasts just three hours, but takes 18 months to prepare.

City agencies, parade organizers, NBC broadcasters, artists and volunteers have been working together to make sure the 50 million expected viewers are thoroughly entertained. Here, a parade primer, by the numbers:

59 balloons: In 1927 parade organizers made the wise call to swap live animals, like lions and tigers, for more kid-friendly balloons. This year a couple new helium-filled characters—Sonic the Hedgehog and Paul Frank's Julius—will join the pack following a long journey that started on a sketch pad. Each of the parade's 59 balloons has made the transition from drawing to clay figure to flying object, through collaborations between artists, engineers and an army of volunteer string holders, charged with steering the balloons as they bob down Broadway.

800 clowns: Clowns are the only members of the parade who directly interact with spectators. The job is taken so seriously that all clown volunteers are required to take classes from Big Apple Circus pros, who teach them the ins and outs of clowning around.  Graduates arrive at the parade at 6 a.m. to keep the crowd cheerful as they await the start of the show. Expect to see roller skating clowns, sleepy clowns, the "turkey tech football gobblers" and "nutty crackers" mixed in with the masses.

11 marching bands: Bands from Hawaii to Homewood, Ala., have been preparing for the parade for months. One-hundred-fifty high school and university bands submitted their applications to a selection committee, who whittled the pool down to 11.

3.5 million spectators: A crowd as populous as the state of Connecticut will line the 2.65 mile parade route from 77th Street and Central Park West to Macy's in Herald Square. To accommodate such a huge crowd, the New York Police Department will deploy "an adequate amount of personnel," and sanitation workers will be on site to clean up the mess.

42 tons of trash: Last year the New York City Department of Sanitation swept up 42 tons of trash. That's 84,000 pounds, roughly the weight 20 SUVs.  Preparing for a similar cleanup this year, the department says it will deploy 95 sanitation workers and 14 officers equipped with 17 street sweepers, 24 hand brooms, 12 backpack blowers and 10 collection trucks.

35 miles per hour: Sustained winds of 23 mph or gusts of 35 mph could ground the 15 largest balloons in the parade. The forecast calls for wind speeds hovering around 20, but a Macy's spokesperson told the Daily News that it should all be okay. "Every year at this point there's a prediction of high winds and every year the balloons fly," he said.

1 Santa Claus: The 85th annual parade will end the way it always has: With the one-and-only Santa Claus riding into Herald Square and kicking off the holiday season, and all the eating and shopping that comes with it.

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