History of Chicago Thanksgiving Day Parade

Image from ChicagoThanksgivingParade.com

Although we are 17 miles northwest of State Street in the 20th District, many of us take the day to head to the Loop for the annual Chicago Thanksgiving Day parade. No longer called the Chicago State Street Parade, the McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade rolls down historic State Street by the old Marshall Field’s building—a picturesque Chicago holiday destination.

According to the Chicago Public Library, the parade began on December 7th, 1934. Mayor Edward Kelly was hopeful this caravan could fuel the Depression-era economy, as well as State Street’s expansion during the holiday season. President of State Street Council (now Chicago Loop Alliance) Walter Gregory pitched the idea to him.

Mayor Kelly’s hopes were founded! This started the largest holiday purchasing period for State Street and the City of Chicago. Then it was called the Christmas Caravan, and it continues as a hopeful and cheerful moment many Chicagoans and Illinoisans use to mark the start of the holiday season.

According to Block Club Chicago, on December 7th, 1934, a tree-car Burlington Zephyr rode 1,000 miles from Denver to Chicago at 112 miles per hour that carried Walter Gregory, Santa Claus, and other guests down State Street. It was loaded with toys from stores on State Street and sales in the Loop saw the highest profits since 1927. On Christmas Eve, Chicagoans in the thousands gathered to sing carols downtown.

The next year, the caravan became the State Street Christmas Parade, opening with a mini steam engine with the banner reading “Santa is here.” This parade ran until 1983, then was sponsored by McDonald’s in 1984 and became the McDonald’s Children’s Charity Parade.

Image from ChicagoThanksgivingParade.com

According to World Strides, the parade has had 10 different official names in its 84-year history.  From 1990 to 1999, the route moved east to Michigan Avenue from Balbo to Wacker Drives and included names like The Brach’s Kids Holiday Parade, The Field’s Jingle Elf Parade, and the Field’s Jingle Elf Parade Presented by Target & Marshall Field’s.

Image from ChicagoThanksgivingParade.com

In 2002, the parade returned to State Street with a new date—Thanksgiving!

Although it reached large audiences (in 1969, the Chicago Tribune reported 1.5 million people lined the route), WGN began broadcasting the parade in 2007, bringing the parade to people who may be finishing a Turkey Trot, starting cooking Thanksgiving dinner, or curling up on the couch with a mug of coffee.

Image from ChicagoThanksgivingParade.com

The leader of the parade and floats is Teddy the Turkey, the parade’s official mascot, and of course, the parade has Santa Claus.

The parade this year will be held on Thanksgiving Day (November 24th) from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. from State Street (Ida B. Wells Dr. to Randolph). If you’re attending, be sure to arrive early, dress in layers (including hats, gloves, and coats!), and brace for crowds.

Enjoy the parade whether on State Street or at home and keep these facts handy for Thanksgiving dinner! Have a happy and joyful Thanksgiving this week with your loved ones.