NEW YORK — Spectators cheered and sang at annual Thanksgiving Day parades from New York to Philadelphia to Detroit and friends enjoyed feasts with strangers at Occupy protest gatherings, reminding each other there is much to be grateful for despite the country's hard economic times.
Delighted crowds gathered Thursday for Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on the streets of Manhattan under brilliant sunshine. Millions more viewed the live broadcast of the annual holiday production on television from the comfort of their homes.
"Here comes Snoopy!" said an excited Regan Lynch, 5, nudging her grandfather, Nick Pagnozzi.
Pagnozzi, 59, of Saddle River, N.J., drove into the city at 6 a.m. to get a seat on the bleachers along Central Park West. He said Regan wanted to make sure he took pictures of every balloon.
With winds gusting to 22 miles per hour and temperatures in the mid-30s, parade-goers in Detroit bundled up. Before the celebration, 21,000 runners followed the course for the Turkey Trot races. A cluster of Ford Model T cars in the parade testified to the city's status as America's battered but rebounding auto capital.
"I know that for many of you, this Thanksgiving is more difficult than most," President Barack Obama said in his weekly radio address. "But no matter how tough things are right now, we still give thanks for that most American of blessings, the chance to determine our own destiny."
The president later telephoned 10 U.S. service members stationed abroad to wish them a happy Thanksgiving and praise their military service.
Dishing up Thanksgiving meals, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords appeared at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in her hometown of Tucson, Ariz. She used only her left hand as she served, a sign that physical damage remains from the injuries she suffered when she was shot in the head Jan. 8 as she met with constituents. Eighteen others were injured and six people died in the assault.
Giffords donned a ball cap and an apron with her nickname of "Gabby" sewn on the front. Her retired astronaut husband, Mark Kelly, supported her from her left side as she worked the turkey station on the serving line.
"Happy Thanksgiving, thank you for your service," she told Airman 1st Class Millie Gray of Kansas City, Mo.
Others in San Francisco, Oakland, Calif., and New York celebrated the holiday, serving turkey or donating their time in solidarity with the anti-Wall Street movement triggered by frustration with the slow pace of the economic recovery.
Some 3,000 meals were served in New York City. In Las Vegas, Occupy organizer Sebring Frehner said protesters had a potluck Thanksgiving meal at their campsite near the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He said he was happy to skip the traditional meal at home.
"Instead of hunkering down with five or six close individuals in your home, people you probably see all of the time anyway, you are celebrating Thanksgiving with many different families — kind of like the original Thanksgiving," Frehner said.
The thousands lining the parade route in Detroit for the 9 a.m. start, watched dozens of floats and hundreds of marching musicians, including the 170-person Viking Marching Bad from Walled Lake Central High School.
Forty dancers from Deborah's State Door dressed as hot dogs, and a 41st costumed as a bottle of mustard, made up a contingent sponsored by the National Coney Island restaurant group.
Philadelphia's Thanksgiving parade, which began in 1920 and considers itself the nation's oldest, went off with one hitch. Before the parade, in a preparation area, a balloon of the lasagna-loving comics feline Garfield burst while being inflated.
Organizers weren't sure if it popped from over-inflation, a problem with the strings, or some other issue. Maybe it was too much lasagna?
In all, the Macy's parade featured more than 40 balloon creations, 27 floats, 800 clowns and 1,600 cheerleaders. Star appearances included Mary J. Blige, Cee Lo Green, Avril Lavigne and the Muppets of Sesame Street. Some performances were at a stage at the end of the route in Herald Square; others were on floats.
"I feel like a kid all over, man, you know?" said Green, who rode a float featuring young hockey players.
Giant balloon versions of a jetpack-wearing monkey and a freakish creation from filmmaker Tim Burton made inaugural appearances. Paul Frank's Julius and Burton's B. joined fan favorites like Snoopy and Spider-Man. The parade also featured an elf balloon designed by Queens resident Keith Lapinig, who won a nationwide contest.
In the crowd along Manhattan's Seventh Avenue, tourist Wilfred Denk of Munich, Germany, said he was most impressed by the high school marching bands. The procession featured bands from as far away as Hawaii.
Suddenly, a float bearing a replica of Mount Rushmore came into view. "Look, Neil Diamond!" said Bethina Denk.
The crowd started singing "Sweet Caroline! Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!" as Diamond waved from a platform in front of the Mount Rushmore heads.
Near the beginning of the route, Conor Jones, 5, of the Bronx, ducked as a troupe of clowns dressed as firefighters doused the crowd with multicolored confetti. He and his twin brother, Nolan, have attended the parade three years in a row.
"I like the bands best," he said. His brother preferred the Spider-Man balloon.
Dozens of handlers got revved up with a cheer heralding their cartoon balloon character: "Buzz! Lightyear! Buzz! Lightyear!"
Nearby, balloon handler Joe Sullivan, a retired banker, held one of six nylon lines securing a huge floating pumpkin. He's been volunteering in the parade for more than 15 years.
"When it's windy it's a struggle," he said. "But today is great weather."
Macy's predicted 3.5 million people could crowd the parade route, while an additional 50 million watched from home.
All the balloons are created at Macy's Parade Studio in New Jersey, and each undergoes testing for flight patterns, aerodynamics, buoyancy and lift. The floats are driven into New York through the Lincoln Tunnel before the parade.
Associated Press Writers Julie Walker in New York, Julie Pace in Washington, David N. Goodman in Detroit, and Matt York in Tucson contributed to this report.