Americans are marking the annual Thanksgiving holiday Thursday with family gatherings, bountiful meals, festive parades and bargain shopping.
In New York City on Thanksgiving morning, thousands of people lined the streets to watch the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. A tradition for 88 years, it featured marching bands, celebrity performances and giant balloons of cartoon characters such as Spider-Man, Snoopy and SpongeBob Squarepants.
The Spiderman balloon floats down Central Park West during the 88th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, Nov. 27, 2014.
U.S. military troops serving abroad kept the holiday, too, gathering at various bases for traditional feasts of roast turkey, stuffing and other foods.
At NATO headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan, soldiers going through the cafeteria line got at least a small taste of home.
"You know, any Thanksgiving that you are on God's green earth is a good Thanksgiving to celebrate," soldier Brandon Galindo said, according to Reuters news agency.
In Washington, President Barack Obama thanked the troops via his weekly radio and Internet address. He also expressed gratitude for Americans who show compassion by helping those who are less fortunate.
The president called Thanksgiving his favorite holiday because "it is uniquely American," with people "united by the gratitude for the bounty of this nation."
Obama, who last week signed an executive order that limits deportations of illegal immigrants, said, "We welcome the contributions of all people – no matter their origin or color or beliefs – who call America home and who enrich the life of our nation."
Recreation and relaxation
Some Americans worked up appetites by pulling on running shoes and going out for organized races known as "turkey trots."
Brent Clodgio checks a Thanksgiving turkey while tailgating before an NFL football game between the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears in Detroit, Nov. 27, 2014.
Other sports enthusiasts planned to exercise their eyeballs, watching football at stadiums or on TV. In the Midwestern state of Michigan, tailgaters at Detroit's Ford Field fired up their grills – some preparing turkeys – before a match between the hometown Detroit Lions and the Chicago Bears.
On the holiday's eve, President Barack Obama and his family handed out food to clients of a Washington center that provides food, clothing and other services to the poor.
Earlier in the day, Obama followed the presidential tradition of "pardoning" a turkey. The White House ran an online contest in the past week asking people to vote on which bird should get the pardon, Mac or Cheese. While Cheese won the official pardon, both hefty turkeys – each weighing about 23 kilograms, or roughly 50 pounds – will be spared the chopping block.
Another Thanksgiving tradition is shopping sales in crowded stores at the start of the holiday shopping season.
For years, sales began the day after Thanksgiving – on so-called Black Friday. Now they start on the holiday itself or even several days in advance and generally end the following Monday, known as Cyber Monday. According to the National Retail Federation, about 68 million people in the United States say they expect to shop over the Thanksgiving Day weekend.
A blast of rain and snow along the East Coast on Wednesday complicated weekend travel plans for many people in what is traditionally the year's busiest travel weekend in the United States.
Tradition says the first American Thanksgiving occurred in 1621, with early North American settlers commemorating a harvest after a harsh winter.
The nation's first president, George Washington, declared it a national holiday in 1789.