McDonalds Thanksgiving Day Parade

This morning I left home about 3:35 AM to volunteer for the McDonald’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. This past Tuesday was my birthday, but I registered for the parade in August, and accepted the delay completing my goal because I wanted to help out this event.

This was the 78th Chicago Thanksgiving Day Parade, and it is one of just three parades broadcast live nationally. With a cast of thousands, more than a hundred thousand spectators along the parade route, and millions of TV viewers around the country this event is a family tradition.

The parade organizers boast that we created millions of smiles today. Generations have enjoyed the celebrities, marching bands, floats, giant character balloons, animal acts, clowns, dancers, and other live performers.

The Chicago Festival Association has a dedicated staff of volunteers who meet year round to plan for this event. They rely on almost 1,500 volunteers on Parade Day and hold a Parade School to help rally the troops, introduce them to the leadership board, and show them the ropes of pulling off this event safely and on schedule for the live broadcast.

Today, my role was in the volunteer check-in area where we greeted volunteers, checked them in, provided credentials, and later collected credentials in exchange for thank you gift bags. It was vital that we got people in and out efficiently so they could report to their areas on time. There were brief rushes, but overall it was easy to keep the line moving.

The check in area was located indoors so we were not affected by the chilly weather. The volunteers started arriving shortly after 4:30 and many were veterans of the Thanksgiving Day Parade, and some even had costumes and matching outfits. There was Jack Sparrow, Magneto, and someone in a tom turkey costume just to name a few.

My break was at 8:20 just before the parade started so I walked over to the helium character balloon lot. It was a veritable who’s who with balloons of characters like Big Bird, Rocky the Flying Squirrel, and Yogi Bear. From there I walked to the starting line to see Ronald McDonald and Teddy the Turkey lead-off the parade before I headed back indoors.

About 9:15 we started packing up and cleaning our area. Then, I helped stuff gift bags until about 10:15 when I left. It was just as the parade was ending so I got to see the last 2 marching bands, and the Big Man himself, Santa Claus! As they say, everyone loves a parade, and the children’s eyes lit up when they saw Santa.

Among the things that I am thankful for today are my family, my friends, my two dogs, and all the people who allowed me to volunteer for their causes. It’s been an extraordinary journey and I am thankful that I decided to embark on this quest. Years from now I’ll remember my 50 for Fifty goal, the wonderful people I met along the way, and all of the support everyone has given me.



  1. Thank you for reminding me why I do this.It was a very long year filled with 7 and 8 year olds asking for a I pad and a I phone. I foegot about the smiles and the hugs at the start of the season.It’s a wonderfull day Santa is looking forward to next year. Keep your eyes on a goal and keep the season in your heart. Santa

  2. Ever since I met you working the Census, I knew I had met one of the most remarkable persons in my life. Although we hardly talk I’ve been able to keep in touch with you in spirit though your amazing venture in philanthropy…you are an inspiration. Congrats on meeting the big 50!!! Wishing you continued success!!

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