Chicago’s T-Day parade turns 80

CHICAGO — This year marks the 80th anniversary of the McDonald’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Second only to the Macy’s parade in NYC, Chicago knows how to throw a party. Through the years, the parade has been a standing tradition for many families watching in person or on television.

Many families will decide to sleep in, have brunch, and, as we did growing up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, flip back and forth between the Macy’s parade and the McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m still figuring out what my Thanksgiving traditions look like in adult life. I don’t live in the suburbs, I don’t have kids… I generally still go to my Mommy’s house for all the trimmings and a half-hearted attempt to enjoy football. For many families, part of their T-Day traditions includes volunteering in various roles, such as balloon handlers, route marshals, tech crew, hospitality, and “Poo Crew.”

You heard me right. Poo Crew.

You know all those horses in the parade? Well, somebody’s got to clean up after them.

The 1936 “Christmas Caravan” (source: Chicago Public Library Special Collections and Preservation Division)

It’s easy to get caught up in the holidays and forget what makes them awesome. As I fought for a parking spot at the grocery store this morning, amidst a police shake down of an unruly customer, I heard on the radio that a guy is already lined up for Black Friday.

Yeah, no joke. He’s having his turkey delivered to a parking lot tent on Thursday.

My hope is that people remember that this isn’t supposed to be about consumerism, and fighting over parking spots, and non-stop glutinous eating and drinking. It’s supposed to be about friends, and family, and spreading joy, gosh darn it.

I won’t be making it to the parade this year… on the docket this Thanksgiving is a 5K Turkey Trot in the ‘burbs benefitting the Crystal Lake Food Pantry. But as I warm up with brunch and a hot apple cider post-3.1 miles, I’ll be sure to tune in on the tele (with thanks that I’m not stuck in downtown traffic).

The Ringling Bros. elephant, appearing in the Chicago’s Thanksgiving parade in the 1980s (perhaps also a Poo Crew duty) 

Volunteer applications for the annual McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade are accepted each year in October.  For more information or to apply for the Poo Crew (among other duties), visit  All volunteers are required to attend “Parade School” at the Museum of Science and Industry (5700 S. Lake Shore Drive). General admission to the museum is free to Parade School attendees for the rest of the day.

Author: Lauren Warnecke

Lauren Warnecke is a freelance dance critic, contributing to the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Magazine. She is senior editor of See Chicago Dance. Lauren covers dance across the Midwest and writes regularly for Dance Magazine and Pointe with additional bylines in Milwaukee Magazine, St. Louis Magazine and Dance Teacher. Forthcoming publications include essays on ballet training in Chicago (University of Illinois Press) and Shirley Mordine (University of Akron Press). In 2020, Lauren published an opinion piece on the impact of COVID-19 on the arts in the South African journal Agenda. Lauren holds degrees in dance and kinesiology and has presented research on dance training practices at the National Dance Education Organization and the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science. She has co-facilitated critical dance writing intensives in Chicago and Durban, South Africa, and participated in writing residencies at the National Center for Choreography, Bates Dance Festival and JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience. Lauren teaches dance history and kinesiology for dancers, with part-time appointments at Loyola University Chicago and Illinois Wesleyan University.