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Hude crowds cheer NYC Thanksgiving Day Parade

NEW YORK —- The 82nd annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade wound its way through Manhattan streets under sunny skies on Thursday, as thousands of marchers carried giant balloons past throngs of holiday revelers cheering them along the route.

Quincy Kersbergen of Wyckoff, N.J., found a prime viewing spot – perched on a police barricade near the beginning of the parade – and proclaimed herself a big fan of a giant dog balloon.

“This is just fantastic!” the 11-year-old Kersbergen said. “So amazing to be here in person! I’m just so excited about today!”

New to the revelry this year were Buzz Lightyear , the square-jawed, action-figure astronaut from the 1995 film ” Toy Story ,” Horton, the compassionate elephant of Dr. Seuss books, and a five-story Smurf, a blue, gnome-like creature popularized by a TV show that began in 1981. Old favorites like Kermit and the Energizer Bunny are also back.

About 3.5 million spectators were expected to view the parade in person, and 50 million more to watch it on television. The 2.5-mile route wound from Central Park to Herald Square , in front of Macy’s flagship store.

Crews on Wednesday inflated the 13 giant balloons and 31 smaller ones. Each giant balloon requires more than 5,000 cubic feet of helium.

Among the smaller balloons was a newcomer that pays tribute to graffiti artist Keith Haring , who died in 1990. The parade also was to feature 28 floats, 10 marching bands and performances by Miley Cyrus , Trace Adkins , James Taylor and the Radio City Rockettes.

“She’s just the coolest!” 6-year-old Isabella Muccio said of Cyrus.

At a staging area near Macy’s, people milled around in costumes: clowns, cowboys, pirates, chefs – someone carrying a fake pie the size of a Christmas wreath.

“I’m so excited! … The crowds, just seeing it in person!” said parade-goer Phyllis Grodnicki of Plainsboro, N.J.

The parade, which began in 1924 and was canceled for two years during World War II, also provides a coveted yearly spotlight for Broadway productions. This year, cast members of “Hair,” ” In the Heights ,” ” The Little Mermaid ,” “South Pacific” and ” Irving Berlin’s White Christmas ” were slated to perform.

In Detroit , thousands braved near-freezing temperatures in hats, mittens and scarves to stake prime spots to view the city’s parade, which has been held for more than 80 years.

Harry Vanuden, a 45-year-old Chrysler LLC worker, said he was grateful to still have his job this Thanksgiving . He’s among 200 remaining employees at Chrysler’s Mack engine plant in Detroit. Two years ago, Vanuden said they numbered 1,500.

“I’ve been a toolmaker for 26 years,” said Vanuden, who lives in the Detroit suburb of Warren. “You hope for the best. I’m just thankful I’m still there.”

His 13-year-old daughter Kelsey was excited at the prospect of seeing the Warren Cousino High School marching band , which she hopes to join when she starts at the school next fall.

Kelly Smith, 44, and her husband Tom, 46, brought their 4-year-old daughter Annalise to her first Thanksgiving Day parade.

“We’re just happy with what we have, and we’re hopeful the economy will rebound,” Smith said.

For many Americans, the day promised football games and family dinners with too much food on the table.

The seven Endeavour astronauts and three space station crew members also planned a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, but unlike families on Earth, they were poised to float – not sit down – for their feast at the joined space shuttle- international space station complex.

On the menu were smoked turkey that’s ready to be heated and freeze-dried green beans and cornbread dressing in need of water injections before they’re served.

Some 220 miles below, President George W. Bush was spending Thanksgiving at his Camp David retreat, thankful for his almost-expired “privilege of serving as the president.” President-elect Barack Obama was staying in Chicago to “have a whole bunch of people over to the house” and squeeze in some Christmas shopping.

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