I Hosted the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade for 14 Years — And Every One Was Magical

Katie Couric at the Thanksgiving Parade

Katie Couric/NBC

Bring on the balloons!

From 1991 to 2005, I helped America celebrate a TV tradition that is as American as well, turkey and pumpkin pie: the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I loved waking up early and heading down to Herald Square, seeing all the people bundled up on the bleachers or gathering on the sidewalks to get a glimpse of the giant balloons, floats, marching bands, pop singers, and Broadway stars. This was an event tailor-made for my co-host of many years, the irrepressible Willard Scott. Willard was like a kid in a candy store — he loved all the color and pageantry. 

But the most fun was a few days before the parade, when we’d do the table read. Along with the producers and Macy’s executives, we’d read the often-corny copy and Willard would be cracking jokes the entire time, making fun of everything and everyone. He’d have the whole group in complete stitches and get us all in the mood for the big event. The day of, I’d often have to smack Willard (lovingly) off-camera to get him to read the prompter when he wasn’t paying attention. Timing was everything, and we couldn’t be late describing Garfield the Cat or the “Super-dee-duper” Barney balloon. 

Meanwhile, getting ready to host the parade was a sartorial challenge. I’d always have to find the perfect ensemble: I’d hunt for a cute coat, with a scarf and gloves that matched and (of course) a hat that completed the whole look. In fact, my hats became a bit of a joke — like the PD Eastman book, Go Dog Go! I would ask Willard, “Do you like my hat?” To which he’d respond, “I do, I do, I do like your hat!” (Check out the book if you don’t get the joke.) When I look back at some of the chapeaus I chose back in the day, I’m pretty mortified. Some of them were downright heinous, though others have stood the test of time — sort of.

A few years ago, Billy Eichner asked me to co-host his own version of the parade for his show Billy on the Street, complete with strange balloons. (“Look! It’s Rooney Mara! Here come the publicists — all young women on their phones drinking iced coffee…”) It was a riot. I played it very straight, which Billy appreciated. And this was actually one of my favorite hats of all:

The Macy’s parade is the result of months of hard work: The crew starts planning next year’s parade on Friday morning. It’s also the result of hours of dedication by marching bands from all over the country — This is their moment to shine, so don’t turn away when they step into view. Even though the performers are singing along with a background track, their lips may not fit the lyrics. But appreciate the fact that they got up at the crack of dawn to entertain you while you’re still in your pajamas! And please do cheer on my successors, Savannah and Hoda, for getting out there and getting excited about the Baby Sinclair dino balloon. (I’m personally stoked about watching Lea Michele sing something from Funny Girl — hopefully “Don’t Rain on My Parade!”)

In an era where there aren’t that many institutions that people still trust, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade remains a crowd-pleaser that pretty much everyone can enjoy. (I don’t predict many family quarrels over their favorite float or balloon.) Thursday’s forecast calls for mostly sunny skies, so while you’re chopping the celery for your stuffing, slicing the apples for your pie, or just pouring yourself another cup of coffee, take a moment to salute all the folks who have said, “Let’s have a parade” since 1924. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! 

Want to learn a little more about the creation of the parade and the woman who gave it new life in the 1970s? Watch this video on the incredible Jean McFaddin.