2014 marks 90 years since the beginning of what is arguably the most anticipated entertainment of Turkey Day (second only to the wishbone battle): the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. And while some aspects of the national spectacle have remained since its 1924 debut — from its sky-high floats to its Herald Square finishing point — others have appeared throughout the years to serve as direct reflections of their respective time periods. Here are just a few of the beloved event’s most notable — and era-defining — moments:
1924: First-generation immigrants employed by R.H. Macy & Co. kicked off the holiday season by donning clown costumes, putting together marching bands, and displaying animals from the Central Park Zoo as they marched from Harlem to Macy’s flagship store in Herald Square, thus creating what was originally called the Macy’s Christmas Parade.
1927: Balloon Giants debut. Felix the Cat is the first giant balloon to be featured in the Macy’s Parade.
1942-1944: To save helium and rubber during WWII, Macy’s cancels the event until 1945.
1950s: The parade gains attention as a handful of celebrities, including Jackie Gleason, Shirley Temple, and Jimmy Durante, begin to ride on the event’s signature floats.
1971: The Tom Turkey float takes his inaugural ride. He has been the opening act ever since.
1986: Sesame Street‘s Big Bird debuts as a giant balloon, the first Sesame Street character to join the balloon lineup.
1993: Sonic the Hedgehog debuts as a giant balloon, becoming the first ever to be based on a video-game character.
1996: The first-ever three-character balloon debuts in the form of a Rugrats float.
2001: The Macy’s Parade turns 75 and marches to bring joy to a nation grieving post-9-11. The parade features a moment of silence and giant American flags shaped like the Twin Towers. Jon Stewart nails the recap.
2005: The Blue Sky Gallery Series debuts, featuring balloon works from acclaimed artists. Since then, artists Jeff Koons, Keith Haring, Takashi Murakami, Tim Burton, and KAWS have had featured creations.