Everyone loves a parade. But with the economy in recession, they may be fewer and smaller across the country in the years ahead.
— New York's annual Thanksgiving Parade, a tradition since 1924 that is watched by 50 million households across the country, is run by Macy's, which announced earlier this week that it's slashing 7,000 jobs to save hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
— In Pasadena, Calif., where the theme for the 121st Rose Parade on New Year's Day will be "2010: A Cut Above the Rest," Tournament of Roses President Gary J. DiSano acknowledges that some sponsors and nearby cities might opt out this year, but he still hopes that they will say "the heck with the economy, let's go for it," he told the Pasadena Star-News last month.
— In New Orleans, three small parades have opted out of the city's annual Mardi Gras bash later this month, and organizers are concerned that the lavish and decadent party may have to be scaled back in years to come.
— In Chicago, where businesses are hoarding their cash, organizers of the city's 76th annual McDonald's Thanksgiving Day Parade are preparing for the worst.
"We're seeing clear signs that it's going to be a difficult year," said Phil Purevich, executive director of the Chicago Festival Association. "As we go forward, it's going to be more and more critical to show our sponsors what they get in return."
While there's no risk that the Windy City's parade will be cancelled, Purevich told FOXNews.com there is no guarantee that it will be the same grand event it's been for three-quarters of a century. Three of the parade's major sponsors — Columbia College, MB Financial and C.D. Peacock — still must be renewed.
"That's our goal," Purevich said. "But it's going to be hard to get sponsor dollars. It's going to be a very difficult year for us, there's no doubt about it. We're preparing for the worst."
The cost of inflating the parade's giant helium balloons will also be a burden, Purevich said, as the cost of helium has nearly tripled in recent months.
"Other costs have skyrocketed as well," he said. "And many times we're locked into contracts, so our income is fixed but our expenditures rise and it puts us in a very difficult position."
Purevich predicts potentially turbulent times along parade routes across the country.
"You are going to see small, medium and large events like these not exist anymore because of the state of the economy," he said. "As budgets tighten up across the board, we as producers are going to have to be more sensitive to the needs of our sponsors."
In New York, Macy's spokesman Jim Sluzewski said, "The parade will certainly go on. It's a signature event for the company and the country."
Macy's officials declined to discuss ongoing negotiations with corporate sponsors, but they said they plan to announce new giant balloons in September to go along with Mr. Potato Head and Buzz Lightyear.
And Macy's job cuts will have no effect on the parade, spokeswoman Elina Kazan said, calling them "two separate issues."
"It's truly a very unique event in American pop culture and history," Kazan told FOXNews.com. "Each year we always bring in new elements, we always try to up the entertainment factor each year."
But organizers of St. Patrick's Day parades in Connecticut are feeling the pinch. According to the Hartford Courant, parade officials in New Haven have been asked for the first time to pony up an additional $30,000 to pay for police overtime for the event. That's on top of the usual $80,000, the Courant reported.
"We're not there yet, but we think we'll make it," James J. McGovern, the parade's chairman, told FOXNews.com Wednesday. "We're not alone. It seems to be the trend that these services aren't going to be free anymore. But there will be a parade — the question is how big will it be?"
McGovern said last year's parade drew 300,000 people to the streets of New Haven. To combat future fiscal crunches, McGovern said organizers are considering asking all attendees to donate a dollar this year.
"It's not as easy as you would think, logistically, but we think we're going to give it a shot," McGovern said.
In New Orleans, Arthur Hardy, who publishes a Mardi Gras guide by the same name, said the sagging economy has forced out three smaller parades.
"There has been an impact, but not a serious one at this point," Hardy said of the economy's effect on the 50-plus parades that will take place during the festival. "It'll be a fairly ordinary Mardi Gras this year, and ordinary is good for us after the hurricane."
Hardy, whose guide has sold more than 2 million copies, said the real budget crunch might come after this year.
"Most of the expenses for the '09 parade have already been incurred," he said. "The real test will be how it performs next year. There's some concern."
Fans of Philadelphia's famed Mummers Parade also have reason to be worried that next year's festivities will be subdued, or canceled altogether. Last year's New Year's Day parade was nearly scrapped after the cash-strapped city withdrew more than $400,000 in support. Private fund-raisers eventually stepped in to prevent the parade's third cancellation since it became an official city event in 1901.
Meanwhile, in South Boston, where revelers flood the city's predominantly Irish neighborhood every year for its St. Patrick's Day parade, this year's festivities will be "one of the biggest ever," said parade chairman John Hurley.
"I'm not having any problems with money," Hurley told FOXNews.com. "The people in town make donations and we hustle. We start in August and keep going."
William Lawrence Bird, curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and author of "Holidays on Display," said parades hold a special place in the country's history and should be protected.
"Historically, it's one of the most open and accessible public displays of democracy," Bird told FOXNews.com. "There's a high level of community involvement in which people are determined to put it on and show up for it. The making and doing is as important as the watching."
Bird noted that some parades, like the now-defunct Orange Bowl Parade in Miami, Fla., were borne out of a "Depression-era playbook" to lift the spirits of the nation. After losing its television contract in 1997, the Orange Bowl Committee voted to abolish the parade in 2002 after being held every year since 1936 with the exception of three years during World War II.
"It's a really interesting part of our display culture," Bird said. "What it is about really is not only the spectatorship and the making and doing of it all, but it's a way to participate in something larger than yourself — the sheer scale of it and the fact that it seems to float down the street."
For families who attend parades every year, Bird said the memories that can accompany the spectacles are often priceless.
"It's about giving your child the gifts that you remember," said Bird. "The attachment is similar and you see it handed down from generation to generation."
But Bird also foresees major changes to modern parades.
"As the economy sours, all of these things are placed in not peril, but at least some danger," he said. "But it's always a success when people bring some kind of emotional attachment to watching a parade or even marching in one."