On Thanksgiving morning, the parade steps off at 8:50 a.m. at Kirby and Woodward (near the Detroit Institute of Arts) and ends at Congress St. south of Campus Martius. A holiday tradition since 1924, the three-mile parade will be televised locally on WDIV-TV Local 4 at 10 a.m. and syndicated to more than 65 million households in 150 major cities across the country.
The magic doesn’t happen overnight though, as putting together such a spectacle is a year-round labor of love for staff, hundreds of volunteers and community leaders dedicated to keeping the spirit of the parade alive and well in the Motor City.
Presented by Art Van Furniture, the parade will feature several new floats including their own called “Keeping the Magic Alive,” an ode to the generosity of founder and chairman, Art Van Elslander, who in 1990 when the parade was facing cancelation, made an historic donation to ensure the beloved Detroit tradition would remain for generations to come.
This year’s grand marshal is actor and Michigan native, Tim Allen, best known as the star of the show “Home Improvement” and movies “The Santa Clause” and “Toy Story.”
The parade is jam packed with something for everyone. Floats, balloons, marching bands, special troupes, live entertainment, a guest appearance by Santa Claus and more, means memories will surely be made on a day of giving thanks.
Speaking of thanks, a group of us were thankful to have a chance to visit the Parade Company’s warehouse for a tour of the facility and to volunteer to work on a float that will be seen traveling the parade route.
The 200,000-square-foot space is home to colorful floats, more than 3,000 costumes and the world’s largest collection of papier-mâché heads.
We were amazed at all of the care and detail applied to each float and how many steps are required to make the characters take shape and even move. (Check out the photo gallery below!)
Balloons such as Captain Underpants (who was getting a good scrubbing when we visited), Kermit the Frog and the parade’s mascot, Clownie, require multiple volunteers to gently steer on the day of the parade.
The Girl Scouts, area marching bands, the Old News Boys and the Distinguished Clown Corps, are just a few of the many special units that will grace the parade route.
But the stars of the show are definitely the ornate floats brought to life by volunteers and the organizations that sponsor their creation. Longtime favorites like Mother Goose (who has been in the parade every year since 1924!) and Santa’s Sleigh will be making their appearance, while new floats from Henry Ford Health System, Lear Corporation and more make their debut.
This is the 24th year that the Skillman Foundation has sponsored a float design contest for Detroit students in grades fourth through eighth. This year’s “Family Time” is based on a design by eighth grader Ayress Goss from Ludington Magnet Middle School and features a large tree shading a family enjoying a day at the park.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan’s “Path of Confidence” provides a glimpse into the stages of a person’s life across five segments that measures 124 feet long.
DTE’s “Know Your Own Power” float features giant CFL bulbs, a moving Ferris wheel, 8-ft-wide wind turbines and 12-ft-tall superheroes.
“Innovation Workshop,” sponsored by the General Motors Foundation, is a multi-platform float showcasing innovation in STEM education initiatives. It also features a 16-ft replica of the RenCen and peppermint candy canes and platforms (which our team painted)!
These are just a few of the magical displays you’ll feast your eyes on before turkey dinner. If you plan on attending the parade, be sure to give yourself plenty of time to navigate around road closures, find a parking spot and pick the perfect location to see all the action. Check out this map for Wayne State University parking or this map for downtown parking locations.
Be sure to share your photos on your favorite social media platforms by using #DetroitParade.
If you can’t make it to the parade on Thanksgiving morning, you can still witness the magic of all the floats. Parade Company tours are available year round whether you have a large group or just a few people. Check out this brochure and schedule a time by calling 313-923-7400. For more information on volunteer opportunities visit TheParade.org.