I'm a freelance writer/photographer living in the East Village neighborhood of New York City.
Some moments in New York City are magical, like when the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus elephants emerge from the Queens Midtown Tunnel or when a thousand people dressed as Santa Claus converge in Union Square. Included in this pastiche of odd, albeit wonderful, moments is the annual inflation of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day balloons, which takes place every year on the west side of Central Park near the Museum of Natural History.
The tradition of using helium-filled balloons, which dates all the way back to 1927 and began with Felix the Cat, is not to be missed. It is actually what many native New Yorkers do instead of joining the throngs of millions who turn out to watch the parade early on Thanksgiving Day. Public viewing begins roughly around 3PM, but the action really starts at dusk. As the huge balloons are inflated (taking up two full city blocks!), workers secure them with ropes and heavy sandbags. The public is permitted to mill around Central Park, taking in a delightful array of views that make for some fantastic photo opportunities and plenty of giggles from youngsters. This year, kids and adults alike will be poised to watch as 32 different character balloons like Kermit the Frog, Hello Kitty, Bugs Bunny, Mr. Potato Head, and Spiderman slowly come to life before their eyes.
The balloon Inflation is for many people almost as exciting as the parade itself. Inflation grows each year with more parade lovers coming out on Thanksgiving Eve to experience it. This has become in many ways an annual tradition and event onto itself," said Robin Hall, Executive Director of the 77th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Beginning at 3PM, visitors may enter the "Balloon Inflation Station" at the northeast corner of 77th Street and Columbus Avenue. There will be no other points of entry, and police barricades will keep spectators from going too close to the helium-filled giants. The viewing is scheduled to end at 10PM. So pack up the kids, grab the cameras, and head out, hot chocolate in hand, for one of the coolest nights in New York.