Americans are celebrating Thanksgiving Thursday as they traditionally do — gathering with family and friends around tables groaning with food, watching parades and football games and, for many, starting their holiday shopping.
A store in Virginia offers 40% off original prices storewide as the holiday season starts in the United States, Nov. 24, 2016. (Photo: Diaa Bekheet)
Increased security measures, including sand-filled dump trucks and bomb-sniffing dogs, met throngs of onlookers on hand for the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City this year, but the event went off without a hitch.
While there were no verified credible threats, the New York City Police Department said it deployed more than 3,000 police officers — both in uniform and plainclothes — along the 4-kilometer (2.5-mile) route through Manhattan.
Some officers carried assault rifles and others handled bomb-sniffing dogs while they stood guard as the massive procession of balloons, floats and dancers made their way through New York City.
Crowd barriers are in place around Macy's as preparations continue for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, Nov. 23, 2016, More than 80 New York City sanitation trucks filled with sand will be used along the route to create a physical barrier along the route.
The Elf on the Shelf, Felix the Cat, Charlie Brown and, of course, Santa Claus were just a few of the attractions featured in the parade, the 90th since Macy’s began the tradition in 1924.
The New York police had an additional security challenge this year as well: President-elect Donald Trump’s high-rise residence is a block from the parade route.
Trump Thanksgiving message
Trump and his family will be more than 1,600 kilometers away from his Trump Tower penthouse, spending the holiday at his Palm Beach, Florida, estate. He is expected to pause for a day after a two-week scramble to shape his nascent administration from scratch.
He did take time to post a call for unity in a Thanksgiving message on social media.
“It's time to restore the bonds of trust between citizens, because when America is unified there is nothing beyond our reach,” the real estate mogul-turned politician said in a video posted to Twitter.
Later on Thursday, Trump posted an update on Twitter to inform Americans he was still working, despite the holiday.
“I am working hard, even on Thanksgiving, trying to get Carrier A.C. Company to stay in the U.S. (Indiana). MAKING PROGRESS - Will know soon!” he wrote.
US troops in war zones
Trump isn’t the only American working hard on Thanksgiving. For the 1.3 million active duty military members currently serving, with roughly 275,000 serving in forward deployment areas, today is just another day at the office.
In South Korea, Hunter Whitfield, Private 2nd Class, had turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing with fellow troops.
Members of the Hendrickson High School band from Pflugerville, Texas, march on Central Park West during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, Nov. 24, 2016.
"It's weird that it's my first time ever spending Thanksgiving away from my home. But honestly, this spread out here it's so nice all the food and they do the really great job making everybody feel kind of like, kind at home," said . "It's really nice."
Nearly 10,000 U.S. troops are helping to combat Islamic extremists in Afghanistan, and another 5,000 are in Iraq, some of whom are fighting to retake Mosul from the Islamic State group.
In order to make the holiday more comfortable for soldiers stationed overseas, the Defense Department shipped a massive care package of Thanksgiving favorites such as turkey, ham, stuffing and eggnog to troops stationed on various bases in the Middle East.
According to a statement from the Defense Logistics Agency, a smaller agency within the Defense Department, it sent nearly 35,000 pounds of turkey, 21,000 pounds of ham, 9,000 pounds of stuffing and nearly 900 gallons of eggnog, among other food items.
Shipping that much food across the globe requires a lot of advanced planning, but it’s worth it, said Anthony Amendolia, who works with DLA Troop Support's Subsistence supply chain in Philadelphia.
"Thanksgiving is so important to us, and such a priority, that we have to start in the April, May timeframe," Amendolia said. "It is a long process, but we think service members really enjoy having a great Thanksgiving meal with their troops."
And for the last time, President Barack Obama performed the traditional pardoning of the national Thanksgiving turkeys.
“It is my great privilege — well, it's my privilege — actually, let's just say it's my job to grant them clemency this afternoon," Obama said.
Watch: Obama Pardons his Final Thanksgiving Turkey
Obama gave ceremonial freedom to Tater and Tot in the Rose Garden, flanked by his nephews Aaron, 4, and Austin Robinson, 6, rather than daughters Sasha, 15, and Malia, 18. Obama joked that the girls "couldn't take" his "dad jokes" anymore.
The president turned serious during his regular weekly address Thursday to reflect on the spirit of Thanksgiving.
"Thanksgiving reminds us that no matter our differences, we are still one people, part of something bigger than ourselves. We are communities that move forward together," the president said. "We are neighbors who look out for one another, especially those among us with the least. We are always, simply, Americans."
Obama added that Americans "are bound not by any one race or religion, but rather an adherence to a common belief — that all of us are created equal. That we may think, worship and speak, and love as we please.”
Travel, eat, shop
Thanksgiving has many traditions, not the least of which is traveling to be with family and friends. Almost 49 million people were expected to take to the roads, air and railways — 1 million more than last year — making it the busiest holiday travel period in almost a decade.
A store in Virginia offers 75 percent off original prices storewide as part of big holiday season discounts in the United States, Nov. 24, 2016. (D. Bekheet/VOA)
Since Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, it also marks the start of the holiday season in the United States.
Black Friday, as the Friday after Thanksgiving is known, is a day for big sales on clothing, toys, and appliances, as people begin their holiday shopping in earnest.
This year, some retailers say they have already seen a surge in sales of feel-good items such as spa treatments, candles and comfort food; but, executives at some major retailers such as Wal-Mart, Target and Macy's have said there's no discernable shift in consumer behavior after a divisive election that left half the country deflated and the other half rejuvenated.
Diaa Bekheet, Smita Nordwall, Mia Bush, Joshua Fatzick contributed to this report.