US & Canada

Balloons fly safely at blowy New York Thanksgiving parade

Spider-Man balloon floats down Central Park West during the 87th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York on 28 November 2013
Image caption Spider-Man, the Pillsbury Doughboy, Papa Smurf and Buzz Lightyear were among 16 giant character balloons in this year's Macy's parade

High winds dropped just enough to allow gigantic balloons to follow tradition by joining in the annual New York Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

SpongeBob SquarePants, Snoopy, Spider-Man and friends took off as the floats wound their way through Manhattan.

Some 3.5 million spectators line the route. Another 50 million usually watch it on television.

Thanksgiving Day celebrates the harvest and blessings of the past year, and launches the US holiday season.

New York Police Department decided on Thursday morning that the winds were mild enough for the 16 giant character balloons to be used in the parade, which is now in its 87th year.

The worst of a wet and blustery storm that drenched the US East Coast in recent days passed.

Store protests

The city introduced new parade safety rules after a 1997 accident in which a windblown Cat in the Hat inflatable knocked over a light pole that landed on a woman, seriously injuring her.

Image caption Parade performers travelled by subway to the departure point

City regulations prohibit the giant balloons from flying when sustained winds top 23mph (37km/h), and gusts exceed 34mph.

The foul weather earlier this week led to hundreds of flight delays at a time when some 43 million Americans travel to be with loved ones, but did not cause the widely feared gridlock.

More US stores opened than ever before, luring in shoppers a day ahead of the traditional start of the festive shopping season, known as Black Friday.

Some eager bargain hunters began camping outside retail outlets on Tuesday this week. About 140 million people are expected to shop over the four-day weekend, according to the National Retail Federation.

But there have been protests and an online petition by critics who say it is wrong to separate workers from their families on Thanksgiving.


A group of Whole Foods employees held a strike in Chicago on Wednesday to demonstrate against some of the stores opening on the holiday. Walmart has also faced a backlash over its decision to open its doors on Thanksgiving.

The manager of a Pizza Hut franchise in the US state of Indiana, Tony Rohr, lost his job when he refused to make his staff to work on Thursday. Following an outcry, the fast-food chain reinstated him.

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Media captionObama: "By the power vested in me... Popcorn, you have a full reprieve from cranberry sauce and stuffing"

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama carried out the traditional US presidential Thanksgiving duty: pardoning of the turkey.

Two 38-lb (17-kg) specimens, Popcorn and Caramel, were granted a special last-minute reprieve allowing them to live out their days on George Washington's estate in Mount Vernon, Virginia.

Forty-six million other turkeys will not be so lucky - that is how many of the fowl are expected to be consumed across the US on Thursday.

Thanksgiving has been marked for hundreds of years, and is generally thought to commemorate a 1621 harvest feast the US Pilgrims shared with Indians after settling at Plymouth, in what is now Massachusetts.

In a rare coincidence, this year it occurs at the same time as the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, which has led to the coining of the name Thanksgivukkah.

That last happened in 1888 and will not happen again for more than 70,000 years, according to a commonly cited calculation.

Image caption Millions braved cold weather to see the annual New York City spectacle, which includes numerous floats and 900 clowns
Image caption Police monitored wind speeds during the parade to ensure SpongeBob SquarePants and friends did not give the crowds any trouble

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