Thanksgiving conjures up thoughts of feasting, fun and family togetherness. Added to that equation are the elaborate Thanksgiving Day parades which take place annually across the country.
This year, the McDonald's Thanksgiving Parade in Chicago turns 80 and the grand celebration on Thursday stars local and national celebrities, extravagant character balloons, marching bands from across the U.S. and a variety of entertainment.
"My feeling is that it's great to still be here," said Philip Purevich, executive director of the Thanksgiving Parade. "Many of the big Chicago events have disappeared over the years. And not only in Chicago, but many of the big events and festivals have disappeared across the country." So celebrating an 80th milestone is a big accomplishment indeed, he noted.
Purevich, a native of Gary's Glen Park area and former resident of the Roselawn area, is also the executive director of the Chicago Festival Association. He's been at the helm of Chicago's iconic Thanksgiving Parade since 1997.
The parade director promises there'll be something for everyone during this year's free extravaganza.
"One of our main goals over the last five years is to really showcase the diversity in the Chicagoland area," Purevich said. The parade committee has done that by adding various groups to the marching lineup that represent different cultures. Entertainment groups representing Polish, Spanish, Taiwanese, Bolivian, Guatamalan and other cultures will be among groups starring in the parade.
"Chicago is a diverse city and region. It represents many different cultures so when I think of Thanksgiving, I think of inclusion," Purevich said.
The director, who now lives in Chicago, said the holiday is a good time to enjoy an activity such as the annual parade and is also "a time for families to come together to reflect on the past year."
More than 400,000 spectators from Chicagoland, Northwest Indiana, other neighboring states and across the country are expected to converge on Chicago's State Street Thursday for the event, he said.
"We get many out-of-town spectators. We've become a destination in and of itself," he said, about the parade's tourist draw.
One of the special aspects of the event, Purevich said, are the many volunteers that set aside time to help on the actual day of the grand spectacle. A few months before the parade, there's a call for volunteers and people can apply to take roles of everything from balloon handlers, banner carriers, route marshals and even members of a poo crew.
"Each year, families from all over Chicagoland make volunteering in the Thanksgiving Parade a part of their family tradition, right up there with carving a turkey," Purevich said.
Spectators of this year's parade will be entertained by many groups, performers and artists of all types.
Among performers and attractions scheduled to star in the parade is the Bishop Noll Institute Marching Band, as well as other marching bands from Illinois, Missouri, Alabama, Texas, California, Ohio, Michigan, Kansas, Iowa and South Dakota.
The Thanksgiving Parade's grand marshal this year will be actress Drew Sidora, a Chicago native known for her role on "That's So Raven," among other shows and films.
Also featured will be the Michigan City Soul Steppers Drill Team, Budweiser Clydesdales, Chicago Human Rhythm Project, the Golden Knights Drill Team, McNulty Irish Dancers, the Barefoot Hawaiians, balloons representing various characters from Tweety and the Tazmanian Devil to Curious George, Arthur and more.
Diverse floats will represent a number of organizations from Brookfield Zoo and Von Heidecke's Chicago Festival Ballet to the Christkindlemarket Chicago.