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2011 Macy's parade lights holiday cheer

SpongeBob SquarePants during the 85th Macy's Thanksgiving Day

SpongeBob SquarePants during the 85th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. (Nov. 24, 2011) Credit: Getty Images

Spectators perched on scaffolding, climbed onto shoulders, or just balanced on their tiptoes to catch a glimpse of the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which made its way through midtown Manhattan Thursday morning.

The tradition, now in its 85th year, attracted Long Islanders such as Nicole Schmidt, 33, of Patchogue, who came to watch the balloons, bands and dignitaries with her son T.J. under the beautiful clear sky and bundled up against the 40-degree temperature.

They were joined by other family and friends, most of whom had never been to the parade. T.J., 8, fawned over the Pokémon character Pikachu and the break dancers dressed as Santa Claus.

"Even though we didn't have front-row seats, we enjoyed it anyway," said Schmidt's friend, Flora Rocko.

Former Long Islanders Joe Harrington, a doctor, and his wife, Noreen, a clinical psychologist, traveled from outside Boston with their sons Joe, 12, Kevin, 10, and Owen, 4, all in winter jackets.

Too small to see the parade route, Owen was held aloft by his father for a better view. The older boys sat on the asphalt looking up at the balloons.

It was a bittersweet morning for Noreen Harrington.

"This is our first Thanksgiving without my dad, so we're trying to keep some traditions, and keep the holiday spirit going," she said.

The Harringtons planned to spend the rest of Thanksgiving with her family in Jericho.

The Conway family of Albany, hoping to avoid a repeat of last year when they could barely see the parade, this time brought along ladders and a wooden plank.

They balanced the plank between the ladders and stood tall on the makeshift platform, towering over fellow parade goers.

The work paid off. "The Sonic float was awesome!" cheered Luke Conway, 13, who stood with his mother, Tammy, 41, his sister Claire, 11, and his dad, Tom, 46.

An estimated 3 million people gathered to watch new balloon characters soaring along with the old favorites. Among the balloons floating above the parade route for the first time or making a return after years away were the sock monkey Julian with his jet pack, Sonic the Hedgehog and a balloon boy called B.

Performers included Neil Diamond, Mary J. Blige, Cee Lo Green and Avril Lavigne.

Marching bands from as far away as Hawaii joined others closer to home, such as the New York City Police Department band, which received cheers at 65th Street when it played "When the Saints Come Marching In."

The parade ended, as it always does, when Santa's float arrived in front of the 34th Street entrance of Macy's flagship department store. The store was set to open at midnight, segueing right into another Thanksgiving tradition: Black Friday.With Jennifer Barrios

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