The annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade kicked off in New York on Thursday, putting a festive mood in the air in a city still coping with the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.
The young, and the young at heart, were delighted by the sight and sound of marching bands, performers and, of course, the giant balloons. The weather was a sunny 47 degrees. Some parade-goers had camped out to get a good spot, staying snug in sleeping bags. Others came well-prepared with folding chairs.
Airports, train stations and highways were expected to remain busy Thursday as people made their way home to reconnect with family and friends for Thanksgiving -- though some reunions might be bittersweet because of the damage and displacement caused by Superstorm Sandy.
For some, the once-sacrosanct harvest feast now starts the holiday shopping season -- and store openings keep getting earlier. Black Friday now starts on Thanksgiving Day itself at many national stores, and some shoppers planned to race from their dinner tables to line up for bargains, delaying their second helpings until they've purchased the latest toys or electronic devices.
The popular Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, attended by more than 3 million people and watched by 50 million on TV, includes such giant balloons as Elf on a Shelf and Papa Smurf, a new version of Hello Kitty, Buzz Lightyear, Sailor Mickey Mouse and the Pillsbury Doughboy. Real-life stars were to include singer Carly Rae Jepsen and Rachel Crow of "The X Factor."
Other cities planned to have showy marching bands, cartoon character balloons and musical extravaganzas, as well. Chicago, Philadelphia and Detroit were among the big cities hosting parades.
Among the scheduled highlights were a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey spectacular in Chicago; Phillies star Ryan Howard and Miss America 2012 Laura Kaeppeler in Philadelphia; and a group of 2012 U.S. Olympic champions in Detroit.
The holiday came as portions of the Northeast still were reeling from Sandy's havoc, and volunteers planned to serve thousands of turkey dinners to people it left homeless or struggling.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said his office would coordinate the distribution of 26,500 meals at 30 sites in neighborhoods affected by Sandy, and other organizations also were pitching in.
The Long Beach Surf Association and a charity called Surf for All were sponsoring a Thanksgiving dinner in the Long Island community of Long Beach.
U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, whose New York district includes the heavily battered Rockaways neighborhoods, said he planned to stop by Thanksgiving dinners at three churches and a school.
"They are still giving thanks," Meeks said of his constituents. "They are thankful that they're alive and thankful to the people who are coming to help them."
Some used social media to coordinate Thanksgiving volunteering. Elle Aichele, of Toms River, N.J., started a Facebook page called Hurricane Sandy Thanksgiving Adopt a Family for Dinner.
"Please host a family that needs something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving!" she wrote. "I have been thinking about what I can do to help and this is it!"
For some travelers, the need to stretch their money dictated how they were to arrive at their destinations.
Ashlee Denaro, 35, of Irvine, Calif., was at Los Angeles International Airport Wednesday with her three children. The divorced woman had flown to Salt Lake City to pick up the children from her ex-spouse for a flight back to Southern California.
To economize, Denaro, a physical therapist, flew to Phoenix, changed planes for Salt Lake City, then returned to LAX instead of landing at her local Orange County airport. She then planned to drive an hour to Irvine.
The circuitous route saved her $500 on plane fare.
A Pennsylvania Turnpike service plaza just outside Pittsburgh was packed early Wednesday afternoon, with occasional lines of cars waiting for gas.
Linda Lapp-Stout, 64, was traveling from Cleveland to see family in Parkesburg, between Philadelphia and Lancaster. Lapp-Stout, who has driven a school bus for 32 years, said she was thankful for the holiday break and the warm weather, but she was worried about the economy.
"It's hard to even afford gas," she said.
Landscape designer Anne Murphy, of Gorham, Maine, was waiting for an Amtrak train at Boston's South Station as she and her husband, Ken, headed for Thanksgiving dinner in Gibbsboro, N.J. She said she travels smarter by searching for deals online, using cheaper airports farther from home and packing fewer bags to avoid baggage fees.
"I think we probably travel a little bit less because of costs, but we've definitely traveled more public transportation in order to save on gas," said Murphy, 56.
Associated Press writer Karen Matthews in New York contributed to this report.