• Balloons and revelers withstand blustery holiday
     | November 29,2013

    IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR SABAN BRANDS - Paul Frank's Julius balloon flies high in the New York sky during the 87th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision for Saban Brands/AP Images)

    NEW YORK — Revelers at this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade gave thanks for the giant balloons that flew above the city streets Thursday after a blustery storm nearly grounded them for only the second time in the parade’s 87-year history.

    “The balloons are the best part,” said 11-year-old Matthew Ragbe as he watched them leave their launch pads on 77th Street and turn the corner to face the crowds of parade-goers, many of whom waited hours to secure a good viewing spot.

    Across the country, millions of Americans celebrated their blessings, gobbled up turkey and pumpkin pie, and prepared for the official start of the Christmas shopping season. In Detroit, former Tigers manager Jim Leyland served as grand marshal of the city’s parade, while Philadelphia celebrations were subdued slightly by gusting winds that limited the use of balloons.

    President Barack Obama celebrated a quiet Thanksgiving at the White House with his family and called several members of the armed forces to thank them for their service to the country.

    In New York City, tens of thousands of people lining the parade route were not disheartened by freezing temperatures or the drama over whether Spider-Man, Julius, Snoopy and SpongeBob SquarePants would make their scheduled appearances along with a dozen other puffed-up sky-bound creatures.

    “We thought they’d find a way to pull it off,” said parade-goer John Mispagel, of San Jose, Calif. “It’s really fun seeing so many people having such a great time.”

    Dozens of balloon handlers kept a tight grip on their inflated characters, keeping them close to the ground to fight winds that reached the mid-20 mph range.

    Caution was necessary to prevent a recurrence of the kind of high-wind accident that crashed a Cat in the Hat balloon into a light pole in 1997, seriously injuring a spectator. Balloons were grounded only once in the parade’s history, with bad weather to blame in 1971.

    The balloons were sprinkled along a parade led by a bright orange Tom Turkey float that gleamed in the sunlight. Also featured were thousands of baton twirlers, clowns, cheerleaders, marching musicians and performers including Brett Eldredge, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Jimmy Fallon and the Roots, the Goo Goo Dolls and Kellie Pickler.

    The parade largely went off without a hitch, though Sonic the Hedgehog got briefly hung up in the branches of a tree, and a spinning dreidel balloon became temporarily deflated on a float meant to mark the start of Hanukkah, which fell on Thanksgiving for the first time in centuries.

    Spectator Greg Packer, of Huntington, said he would still make it to the stores when they open.

    “I expect turkey, and I expect shopping,” he said. A few blocks away, a line was forming outside a Best Buy store slated to open seven hours later.

    In Philadelphia, gusty winds of 28 mph limited use of balloons during its annual parade, with officials citing concern for the safety of participants and spectators. Instead of flying along the entire route, the balloons soared only around Eakins Oval and the broadcast area near the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

    Elsewhere in the country, Thanksgiving traditions were largely unaffected by the weather.

    In Detroit, the Tigers’ popular former manager served as grand marshal of that city’s Thanksgiving Day parade, which is billed as the nation’s second largest, behind New York’s. Revelers braved snow showers and slick roads to see two dozen floats and a performance by singer Ruben Studdard.

    In Washington, the Obama family’s menu was quintessential Thanksgiving, including turkey, honey-baked ham, cornbread stuffing, greens and six choices of pie: huckleberry, pecan, chocolate cream, sweet potato, banana cream and coconut cream.

    The White House said the president called 10 service members — two each from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard. The White House said he wished them and their families “a happy Thanksgiving.”

    On Wednesday, two American astronauts on board the International Space Station, Mike Hopkins and Rick Mastracchio, released a video from 260 miles above Earth showing off their traditional Thanksgiving meal: irradiated smoked turkey, thermostabilized yams, cornbread dressing, potatoes, freeze-dried asparagus, baked beans, bread, cobbler and dehydrated green bean casserole.

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