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NEW YORK (AP) – Giant balloons have once again floated across miles of Manhattan, fought over by costumed manipulators. High school and college marching bands from across the country were back, as were the crowds at Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.

After being strangled by the coronavirus pandemic last year, the holiday tradition returned on Thursday, but with precautions.

“It really made Thanksgiving very festive and full of life,” said Sierra Guardiola, a 23-year-old interior design firm’s assistant, after watching the show with a turkey hat.

Thousands of walkers, hundreds of clowns, dozens of balloons and floats – and, of course, Santa Claus – marked the last holiday event in the United States to make a comeback as vaccines, familiarity and sheer frustration made officials and parts of the public more comfortable with large gatherings amid the ongoing pandemic.

For President Joe Biden, the full-fledged return of the parade was a sign of renewal, and he called NBC broadcaster Al Roker on the air to say it.

“After two years, we’re back. America is back. There’s nothing we can’t get over, ”Biden said on the phone from Nantucket, Massachusetts, where he was watching the show with his family.

Yet security measures continued. Parade staff and volunteers were to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and wear masks, although some singers and performers were allowed to get rid of them. There was no vaccination requirement for spectators, but Macy’s and the city encouraged them to cover their faces.

Asahi Pompey said she insisted on getting the shot on Wednesday and wore a mask in the crowd, but COVID-19 issues couldn’t keep her away.

“It’s really phenomenal to be here. It feels like New York is on the verge of recovery, ”said Pompey, 49, a lawyer.

“It’s like the whole spirit of New York has come and come together so that we can be together,” added her school-aged son Sebastian Pompey-Schoelkopf.

Last Thanksgiving, with no vaccines available and the virus starting a winter wave in the nation’s largest city, the parade was limited to one block and sometimes pre-taped. Most of the performers were based locally, to reduce travel, and the giant balloons were attached to vehicles instead of being handled by volunteers. No spectators were allowed.

Watching this year’s nearly century-old parade on the street, instead of a screen, was “amazing” for Katie Koth. The 26-year-old teacher was at the event for the first time.

“The energy is crazy and the crowd was amazing,” she said.

The event came days after an SUV driver drove through a Christmas parade in suburban Milwaukee, killing six people and injuring more than 60. Authorities said the driver, who was charged with intentional homicide, walked away from the police after a domestic dispute.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Wednesday there was no credible and specific threat to the Thanksgiving parade, but security was extended, as usual. It involved thousands of police officers, as well as garbage trucks filled with sand and concrete barriers blocking cars from the parade route, bomb detection dogs, heavy weapon teams, radiation and chemical sensors and more. 300 additional cameras.

Inside the barricades, new giant balloons have joined the lineup, including the main character of the Netflix series “Ada Twist, Scientist”; Pokémon characters Pikachu and Eevee on a sled (Pikachu has appeared in various forms before) and Grogu, aka “Baby Yoda”, from the TV show “The Mandalorian”. The new floats have come from entities ranging from condiment maker Heinz and NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming service to the Louisiana Board of Tourism.

The artists and celebrities included Carrie Underwood, Jon Batiste, Nelly, Kelly Rowland, Miss America Camille Schrier, the group Foreigner and many more. Several Broadway musical actors and the Radio City Rockettes also performed.

Sloan Brown, 6, grabbed everything from a sidewalk and summed up the experience in one word: “Cool”.


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