• McDonald's
  • WGN America
  • Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers
  • WGN

History of Chicago's Grand Holiday Tradition


1934 - Walter Gregory, president of the State Street Council, creates the State Street Christmas Caravan in order to stimulate economic development for the street and cheer Chicagoans up during the Depression era. Held on Decemer 7, the Caravan consisted of toys and merchandise from stores all along State Street.

1968 - As Mayor Daley assures the children of Chicago that Santa will be coming to town as usual, the Mayor's Office of Special Events takes over the responsibility of producing the holiday parade when the State Street Council determines it can no longer fund the parade.

1969 - The Chicago Tribune reports more than 1.5 million people lined the parade route.

1981 - One hundred Santas hand out more then 10,000 balloons as hundreds of thousands watch the parade.

1984 - The Ronald McDonald Children's Charities® Parade is formed and the parade route is moved from State Street to Michigan Avenue. McDonald's® sponsored the parade from 1984-1989.

1990 - The Brach's Kid's Holiday Parade is created when Brach's Confections, Inc. assumes the position of title sponsor.

1998 - Marshall Field's takes over as title sponsor of the parade and the Field's Jingle Elf Parade is created. The Radio City Rockettes begin their three-year opening run as the opening act for the parade's television broadcast.

1998 - The parade begins building and debuting giant character balloons, in association with KB Toys. Beginning with Kermit and Billy Blazes, the Chicago Thanksgiving Parade has introduced more recognizable character balloons since this time than any other parade in the country.

1999 - Target joins Marshall Field's as the title sponsor of the event. The parade is moved from Michigan Avenue to its original route on State Street and produced on Thanksgiving Day for the first time.

2001 - Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey becomes the parade's new opening act and introduces the first elephant to appear in the parade.

2002 - Target assumes title sponsorship of the Thanksgiving Parade. A five-year national syndication deal is signed between the Chicago Festival Association and ABC 7 Chicago. The League of Chicago Theatres partnership showcases several local and national touring theatre companies performing vignettes of their current productions.

2003 - The parade is renamed the State Street Thanskgiving Parade. The parade presents its first-ever unit from Hawaii - E la Ka Hololio Me Ke Kahiau, a traditional Hawaiian equestrian unit from Kailua, Hawaii.

2004 - The City of Zurich (Switzerland) Police Band makes its Chicago debut as the first international unit ever to appear in the parade.

2006 - McDonald's Owners of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana and the McDonald's Corporation announce a two-year title sponsorship of the parade. close to half a million spectators line Chicago's State Street for the McDonald's Thanksgiving Parade on one of the warmest Thanksgiving mornings in memory.

2007 - WGN-TV and Chicago Festival Association announce that the station will broadcast the McDonald's Thanksgiving Parade live and in high definition on WGN-TV9 and WGN-DT 9.1. Superstation WGN, available in approximately 72 million homes at the time, airs the parade nationally. This establishes the McDonald's Thanksgiving Parade as one of three parades in the country to be covered live, in its entirety, on a national television broadcast.

2008 - For the first time ever, the McDonald's Thanksgiving Parade is broadcast live for THREE hours to a national audience.  The 75th step-off of the parade includes Grand Marshal / Olympic Gold Medalist Jennie Fince and WWE Superstar CM Punk.

2010 - Chicago-born actress and star of The Chicago Code, Jennifer Beals serves as Grand Marshal of the parade.  The parade increases is representation of the great multi-cultural flavor of the city, featuring several performances from different cultural groups in the city.

2011 - Grand Marshal Holland Taylor leads the Parade.  For the first time in the history of the parade, there was a closing number that recreated a scene from “Ferris Bueller's Day Off.” Teddy Turkey was joined by dancers that filled the street dancing to “Twist and Shout!”

2013 - Grand Marshal Drew Sidora leads the Parade. Chicago's Grand Holiday Tradition marks it's 80th year!