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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.

An NYPD officer and his son attend the 95th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in New York City.

Kena Betancur via Getty Images

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.

The return of Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, with all the trimmings
Baby Yoda, also known as the Grogu Balloon, floats along 6th Avenue in New York City.

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.

The return of Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, with all the trimmings
Crowds watch the parade on Thursday. There was no vaccination requirement for spectators, but Macy’s and the city encouraged them to cover their faces.

Kena Betancur via Getty Images

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.

The return of Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, with all the trimmings
Santa Claus greeted onlookers as he drove his sleigh through New York City.

John Lamparski via Getty Images

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”.

See more photos from the show below:

John Lamparski via Getty Images

Thousands of walkers, hundreds of clowns, and dozens of balloons and floats took part in this year’s Thanksgiving parade in New York City.

John Lamparski via Getty Images

The University of Alabama Marching Band participates in the 95th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in Manhattan.

John Lamparski via Getty Images

Members of the University of Alabama Marching Band pose during Thursday’s parade.

Alexi Rosenfeld via Getty Images

A dinosaur balloon passes by the Trump International Hotel in New York City.

John Lamparski via Getty Images

A Pikachu and Eevee Pokemon balloon is seen on Thursday’s parade.

Alexi Rosenfeld via Getty Images

People interact with an inflatable reindeer during Thursday’s event. The parade has returned to its normal size after being downsized and closed to the public in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Alexi Rosenfeld via Getty Images

From left to right, Donovan Patton, Joshua Dela Cruz and Steve Burns of “Blue’s Clues” participate in Macy’s 95th Thanksgiving Parade.

via Associated Press

Singer Jon Batiste, right, rides a New Orleans-themed float during Thursday’s parade.

John Lamparski via Getty Images

Miss America Camille Schrier rides the Spirit of America float while greeting parade spectators.

Gary Hershorn via Getty Images

Papa Smurf floats along Central Park West during Thursday’s parade.

Alexi Rosenfeld via Getty Images

Thousands of people jump rope in unison as Sonic the Hedgehog floats in the background.

Gary Hershorn via Getty Images

The Boss Baby balloon floats along Central Park West.

Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Super Saiyan Blue Goku, from the Dragon Ball anime and manga franchise, is seen soaring across Manhattan.

John Lamparski via Getty Images

Participants in the Macy’s Parade hold letters that read “Macy’s Parade”.

John Lamparski via Getty Images

Astronaut Snoopy’s balloon floats through the streets of Manhattan.

Alexi Rosenfeld via Getty Images

Macy’s employees stand and sing on a Christmas float.

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