NEW YORK - Macy’s 87th Annual Thanksgiving Parade kicked off to cheers as the popular giant balloons got the green light to fly under clear skies and mild winds.
Snoopy and Woodstock were the first mammoths to appear against a backdrop of millions of bundled-up spectators, who lined the streets of Manhattan with their smartphones and cameras in hand.
Winter Storm Boreas had threatened to ground the biggest balloons Wednesday, as meteorologists warned wind speeds could surpass the limit set by a New York City regulation. Many had fingers crossed as they waited to hear whether officials would give the go-ahead just before the parade's scheduled start at 9:00 am.
“We’ve been planning this for 10 years,” said Graciela, a Venezuelan who lives in Philadelphia and traveled to New York City to see the parade. She and her relatives staked out their positions in Bryant Park, which runs along the parade route, in the early morning hours, dragging along folding chairs and blankets to keep warm. Her cousin Wilfred, a first-time spectator who traveled from Venezuela to see the parade, described the experience as a “once in a lifetime event.”
For Americans, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade on Thanksgiving morning is a holiday tradition. Many children dream of seeing the huge balloons, floats, marching bands, Broadway stars and celebrities in person, and if they can’t, they watch it on television. The retailer also posted photos, fun facts and parade updates on its Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts.
In addition to returning crowd favorites Snoopy and his pal Woodstock, SpongeBob SquarePants and the dragon, Toothless, from “How to Train Your Dragon” flew by to oohs and ahhhs by the crowd.
This year’s parade also coincided with the first night of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights and Feast of Dedication.
Among the floating stages, cast members of the popular television reality show "Duck Dynasty" were welcomed with loud cheers and Oneida Indian Nation’s “The True Spirit of Thanksgiving” drew applause. Laura Draper, a Native American from New Mexico, whose son Spike was one of the “Fancy Feather Dancers,” described the experience as "unbelievable."
However, this year's parade was not without controversy. Animal activists vowed to line the route to protest SeaWorld’s” A Sea of Surprises” float featuring Shamu, the iconic killer whale, after complaining that theme parks mistreat whales that perform in their shows.
Another protest involved rock ‘n’ roller Joan Jett, a vegetarian and supporter of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), who was scheduled to appear on the South Dakota Department of Tourism float. The singer was booted after ranchers expressed their displeasure that a vegetarian would be representing their state, famous for its beef products. Later, Jett was quoted as saying she had decided to appear on another float “...because people's political agendas were getting in the way of what should be a purely entertainment-driven event.”
As the parade winded down, some spectators cut out early to avoid the large crowds heading home to prepare for Thanksgiving dinner. Jane, another first-time spectator from Brazil who lives in New Jersey, said she decided to brave the frigid temperatures because she wanted to see it live rather than watching on tv.
"It's famous right? Everybody knows about it," she said. "I like to see all the fun."