Behind the scenes at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

  • A float carrying Santa, Mrs. Claus and his elves waves to spectators along 6th Ave during the 89th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in the Manhattan borough of New York, Nov. 26, 2015. 
  • General atmosphere of the 89th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on Nov. 26, 2015 in New York City. 
  • General atmosphere of the 89th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on Nov. 26, 2015 in New York City. 
  • A float makes its way down 6th avenue during the 89th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in the Manhattan borough of New York, Nov. 26, 2015. 
  • A clown livens up the crowd during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Nov. 26, 2015, in New York. 
  • Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, New York, Nov. 26, 2015. 
  • The Sponge Bob Square Pants balloon goes down 6th Avenue for the 89th annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as seen from above street level, Nov. 26, 2015, in New York. 
  • Spectators wait on 6th Ave prior to start of the 89th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in the Manhattan borough of New York, Nov. 26, 2015. 
  • New York City Police special task force at the parade, Nov. 26, 2015. A record number of police officers were patrolling the parade with security on high alert after the attacks in Paris and threats made to NYC. 
  • Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, New York, Nov. 26, 2015. 
  • A marching band proceeds along 6th Ave during the 89th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in the Manhattan borough of New York, Nov. 26, 2015. 
  • A New York Police Department officer surveys spectators with binoculars above 6th Ave watching the 89th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade below in the Manhattan borough of New York, Nov. 26, 2015. 
  • Floats gather on Central Park West prior to start of the 89th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in the Manhattan borough of New York, Nov. 26, 2015. 
  • Members of the New York Police Department gather on the street before the 89th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in the Manhattan borough of New York, Nov. 26, 2015. 
  • View of Red Mighty Morphin Power Ranger during the 89th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Rehearsals Inflation Eve on Nov. 25, 2015 in New York City. 
  • Atmosphere during 89th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Rehearsals Inflation Eve on Nov. 25, 2015 in New York City. 
  • View of Ronald McDonald balloon during the 89th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Rehearsals Inflation Eve on Nov. 25, 2015 in New York City. 
  • Atmosphere during the 89th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Rehearsals Inflation Eve on Nov. 25, 2015 in New York City. 
  • View of Din and Howard the Fireman Balloons during the 89th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Rehearsals Inflation Eve on Nov. 25, 2015 in New York City. 

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It takes more than a village to stage the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade: It takes a good-sized town, including thousands of people who volunteer for the the not-so-glamorous job of handling the parade’s many massive balloons. Each balloon requires anywhere from 50 to 100 handlers.

Along with the opportunity to participate in the iconic event that millions gather to watch every Thanksgiving morning, being a balloon handler involves attending training sessions to learn how to guide the balloon and battle heavy winds during the parade route.

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For many, volunteering at the parade has become a family tradition. “My sisters are all involved in this and we all get together, so it’s like a family reunion when we do this,” said Mary Staniewicz of New Hope, Pennsylvania.

Mary has been a balloon handler for five years now, flying such colorful characters as Spider-Man and Kung Fu Panda. She became involved with the parade with the help of her sister, who is a captain at the event. Most volunteers continue working year after year, holding onto their spots.

This year’s new balloons include Angry Birds’ Red, from the popular video game franchise; Scrat and his Acorn from the “Ice Age” animated films, and burger chain icon Ronald McDonald, in his fourth balloon incarnation. There’s also a new version of the Dino the dinosaur, who has not appeared in the parade in 40 years.

Though it’s a volunteer position, being a balloon handler is not an easy gig to get. Many volunteers land their slots through recommendations from Macy’s employees. “I have been watching the parade for years, and then I got excited when my nephew started to work for Macy’s and I figured that was our ‘in’ for the parade,” said volunteer Joseph Fortis of New York City.

The heavy winds, long hours and miles walked don’t make participating at the parade any less special for the volunteers. Said Peter Collins, a captain: “I enjoy bringing smiles to all the kids’ faces as I walk toward the parade route, it’s fun to watch everybody cheering for your balloon.”

This article first appeared on TODAY.com

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