From all over the country, people came to see the first parade without COVID restrictions since 2019 Credit: Drew Singh

This story was reported by Matthew Chayes, Candice Ferrette and David Olson. It was written by Olson.

Tens of thousands of people lined the streets of Manhattan Thursday morning to see dozens of colorful balloons and floats during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade — the first since 2019 free of pandemic-era restrictions. 

Third-grader Zachary Miller, 8, of Babylon, was with his family enjoying his second time at the parade, bundled up behind a barricade on Sixth Avenue  and gawking at the passing balloon characters.

“I love all of them!” Miller said. “They’re big.” He was particularly excited to see Baby Yoda.

At the parade, an annual tradition that dates back nearly a century, floats, balloons, bands and other participants included Charlie Brown, the Smurfs and Baby Shark, along with Gloria, Sasha and Emily Estefan, Women in STEM and the Queer Big Apple Marching Band. 

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which dates back nearly a century, returned in full force following previous restrictions.
  • Sixteen giant character balloons and 12 marching bands participated.
  • Tens of thousands of spectators were in attendance.

This year's event included 16 giant balloons, 28 floats, 40 novelty and heritage inflatables, 12 marching bands, 10 performance groups, 700 clowns and one Santa Claus. 

Spectators gather

Three-year-old Alec Barouh’s eyes lit up as Santa’s sleigh passed near Rockefeller Center.

“He’s been waiting to see him,” said his grandmother, Dorothy Shanley, 67, who has been coming to the parade since she was a child and was visiting her daughter's family in Middle Village, Queens.

“The atmosphere — the balloons, the people, the bands, the dancers — it’s just the best parade there is,” said Shanley, 67, who grew up in Brooklyn and now lives in Houston. “Every year, if we are not back here, we watch it on television."

Grace Pirolo, 70, of Huntington, a school bus driver’s assistant, has long watched the parade on TV, but this year she decided to see it in person, joined by a few family members.

“It’s my first time here,” she said. “It’s great. The balloons. I like the band, the music. It’s original.”

She didn’t come in years past “because I was cooking.” This year, she woke up at 4 a.m. to tend to her turkey — and then headed into the city. “I started a little early,” she said. The bird was in the oven, she said, and “I have my granddaughter at home watching it.”

After the parade, she was heading back to Long Island to see family, including her son, daughter, husband, daughter-in-law, granddaughter, in-laws and sister. “I’m going to celebrate and give thanks — that I came to this parade," she said.

As Pirolo and others left the parade for a home-cooked meal, others grabbed a hot dog from the carts lining Fifth Avenue and got an early look at the department store windows. Many spectators noted the clear skies, light wind and temperatures much warmer — in the 40s and low 50s — than in some years.

Joanna Rich, 57, traveled from West Virginia to watch the parade in person for the first time. She brought lawn chairs and a sleeping bag, having camped out along Sixth Avenue since 6 a.m.

“It’s so wonderful to be back to normal life,” said Rich, who added she had just as much fun absorbing the environment around her and chatting with other spectators as she did watching the event. “We love New York City, and there’s nothing like this anywhere.”

The theme from “Sesame Street” was blasting from speakers nearby as two sisters from Smithtown and their kids watched from the sidelines.

“They have big balloons!” said fifth-grader Zach Russo, 10. His favorite: the Pillsbury Doughboy, because he likes eating Pillsbury cookies.

Cousin Adrianna Mercardante likes the Pillsbury Doughboy, too, as well as Boss Baby. “I just think the Boss Baby was cool — and I like the cookies,” said Mercardante, 10, a fellow fifth-grader. 

Angelys Maldonado, 43, was visiting family from Puerto Rico and went to the parade for the first time. She was grateful the weather was mild and said she was “lifted” by the festivities. Now, she said, it’s time for Christmas.

“We are ready,” Maldonado said.

Honoring first responders

During the parade, President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden called in, as they did last year. Biden thanked firefighters, police officers and first responders, saying, “They never take a break.” They thanked the troops, and Biden said he would reach out to speak to some.

Asked about their plans for the day in Nantucket, the Bidens said it would involve family, and some time spent locally thanking first responders.

Before the parade stepped off, first responders were also honored at a breakfast for families from Long Island and elsewhere whose loved ones died in the line of duty, including on 9/11.

The breakfast, held near the end of the route, was sponsored by the First Responders Children's Foundation, which was established in the aftermath of 9/11 and this year awarded about 343 scholarships totaling about $1 million, including some on the Island, said foundation president Jillian Crane.

Among the speakers at the breakfast, held at Bryant Park Grill, were Mayor Eric Adams and NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell.

"Our line-of-duty families, the children of our first responders — their strength is what we are thankful for,” Sewell said. “The ability to carry on is what we admire.”

The Smagala family of Holbrook at the parade Thursday. 

The Smagala family of Holbrook at the parade Thursday.  Credit: Brittainy Newman

After the breakfast, attendees went to a reserved spot on Sixth Avenue to watch the parade.

Among them was Alexa Smagala, 20, of Holbrook, a University of Central Florida college student, whose mom, Dena, was pregnant with her when her dad, FDNY firefighter Stanley Smagala, 36, died in the World Trade Center’s south tower on 9/11. Smagala, from Brooklyn’s Engine 226, was on the stairs trying to get people out, family members said.

Alexa Smagala has been coming to the parade every year since she was born. She never met her dad.

She said she’s grateful for the foundation event, at which family members, supporters and their friends get a prime viewing spot without having to wait like others, “but obviously I would take him being over here than being at the parade.”

“It’s not so much mourning his loss but remembering his life,” she said. “We just talk about the good things about him, and what we remember about him — or what they remember about him — and filling me in. The conversations really make me feel like I know him.”

With AP

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