Since 1924, the Thanksgiving Day parade has been an annual Detroit tradition that signals the start of the holiday season. The parade rolls down Woodward Avenue, featuring colorful balloons, larger-than-life floats and a visit from Santa Claus himself.
If you’re one of the thousands of people who plan to bundle up and brave the cold this year, here’s everything you need to know, with insights from the CEO and President of The Parade Company, Tony Michaels.
A Brief History
Detroit’s parade tradition started the same year Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade made its New York City debut. This year, the parade celebrates 92 years.
Founded by J.L. Hudson’s, the department store formerly in the heart of the Central Business District in downtown Detroit, the parade provides free entertainment to the thousands of people who line Woodward every Thanksgiving, despite losing financial support when Hudson’s closed its downtown store in 1979.
Michigan-based independent furniture retailer Art Van, which has helped fund the parade for 28 years, picked up the sponsorship in 2013 and announced in February 2018 that its sponsorship would continue through 2021.
As It Stands Today
The parade, now known as America’s Thanksgiving Parade Presented by Art Van, is organized by a Detroit-based nonprofit, The Parade Company, with over 2,000 volunteer hours and corporate support from Art Van, Quicken Loans, Ford Motor Co., Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, DTE and Huntington Bank. The Parade Company designs and builds the floats and makes all the costumes worn by the Distinguished Clowns, presented by UHY LLP, an accounting firm located in downtown Detroit.
The parade “is a premium tradition in the city of Detroit,” said Michaels. “It’s that magic event that captures the hearts of kids and grown-ups who have come for years.”
The parade starts with a Prelude at 6:00 a.m. ET, but officially kicks off at 8:50 a.m. ET, when it rounds the corner of Kirby and Woodward, ending its 3-mile hike at Congress Street around noon.
The 2018 Grand Marshal is sportscaster Jim Nantz, known for his telecasts of the National Football League (NFL), National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division 1 men’s basketball and the PGA Tour for CBS Sports since the 1980s. Natz will also announce the Thanksgiving game at Ford Field between the Lions and Chicago Bears.
Other celebrity appearances will be made by Kyle Mack, an Olympic snowboarder and Detroit-area native; the ShibSibs Maia and Alex Shibutani, Olympic ice skating siblings and bronze medalists from Ann Arbor, Michigan; Jack Morris, a former Major League Baseball (MLB) star for the Detroit Tigers and recent Baseball Hall of Fame inductee; Desiree Linden, a Washington Township resident and winner of the Boston Marathon, and Sofia Wiley from the Disney Channel original show “Andi Mack.”
Six new floats will debut this year, from these Michigan companies and institutions:
- Wayne State University.
- Lear Corp.
- Delta Dental of Michigan.
- Henry Ford Health System.
- Children’s Hospital of Michigan.
- The Skillman Foundation.
“For some of the kids in and around the city of Detroit, this is their one moment to take in entertainment like this and be a part of something like this,” explained Michaels. “We do this for the kids and families. We try to ensure a healthy parade company and keep it going strong because it means the world to so many.”
This year’s parade theme is “Art, Heart and Soul,” paying homage to the late Art Van Elslander, who passed early this February and was a proud and dedicated supporter of the parade. Banners reading “Thank You, Mr. Van” already line Woodward in preparation for the parade.
Also unique to this year’s event is a tribute to another late local icon, Aretha Franklin, who passed this August. It will include members of her family, Michaels revealed.
How to Watch the Parade
There are a few ways you can enjoy the parade this Thanksgiving.
The most recommended is to wake up early and claim your spot along Woodward. Don’t forget to bundle up – historically, the weather has been on the cold side every year!
You can also purchase grandstand tickets for the parade, with package deals ranging from:
- $45/person for the step-off at Woodward and Kirby.
- $50/person for the Detroit Blue Zone at Woodward and Montcalm.
- $50/person for Grand Circus Park at Woodward North of Witherall. (Fan favorite!)
- $65/person for the TV broadcast area at Woodward and Gratiot.
- $75/ person for the Hard Rock Café Breakfast Package (includes breakfast at Hard Rock Café Detroit and then seating in front of One Campus Martius near the restaurant).
Grandstands open at 8:00 a.m. ET and are first come, first served to purchased attendants.
Depending on where you decide to take in all the action, The Parade Company parking maps will help you find the best garage or lot option, as well as help you avoid road closures for the event. Be sure to bring your credit card, as well as cash, as some garages take only one payment option. Better to be prepared!
If you can’t make it to the city to see the parade in person, don’t worry! The parade has grown in viewership as well as size. Over 100 million viewers around the country watch the national broadcast. Locally, the parade will be televised live on WDIV Local 4 at 10:00 a.m. ET, and radio coverage can be heard on WJR-AM News Talk 760.
Another Detroit Thanksgiving Day tradition, the Strategic Staffing Solutions Turkey Trot off the parade at 7:30 a.m. ET near Cobo Center with a variety of races: The 10K Turkey Trot Run, the 5K Stuffing Strut Run/Walk and the family-friendly Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Mashed Potato Mile.
For 36 years in a row, the Turkey Trot has been known as the “parade before the parade,” with runners sporting holiday costumes. Registration is now open for the 2018 race.
What’s Thanksgiving without football? Make the most of your day in Detroit by watching the parade and following it with a Lions’ game at Ford Field. The Lions kick off at 12:30 p.m. ET against the Chicago Bears. It’s not too late to buy your ticket to the game.
If you choose to go this route, consider parking at the Ford Field Parking Deck to save time and energy walking back to your car after the game – it’s going to be a long day!
Whether you watch the parade front-and-center on Woodward, or on a TV, it’s no secret that the annual America’s Thanksgiving Parade Presented by Art Van holds a special place in the hearts of Detroiters.
“There are moments like this parade that that make a difference,” said Michaels. “We need more of this – bringing people together as companies, organizations and people in the streets.”
Let us know where you’ll be watching America’s Thanksgiving Parade Presented by Art Van this year in the comments below. Stay up to date with the parade by following the event page on Facebook.