Balloons, bands and Santa: Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade ushers in holiday season in New York

FILE - The Astronaut Snoopy balloon is on Central Park West in New York City during Macy's...
FILE - The Astronaut Snoopy balloon is on Central Park West in New York City during Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022. Beloved characters like Snoopy and SpongeBob SquarePants will take to the skies above New York City Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023, while bands march along the streets below as the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade ushers in the holiday season. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey, File)(AP)
Published: Nov. 23, 2023 at 6:14 AM EST|Updated: Nov. 23, 2023 at 12:12 PM EST
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NEW YORK (AP) — Beloved characters like Snoopy and SpongeBob SquarePants soared through the skies above New York City on Thursday and bands marched along the streets below as the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade ushered in the holiday season.

The parade started on Manhattan’s Upper West Side making its way alongside Central Park in front of big crowds and a national television audience before ending in front of Macy’s flagship store on 34th Street.

Among the big names performing is Cher, who just released her first Christmas album. The Oscar-, Emmy- and Grammy Award-winner has a prime spot — performing just before the arrival of Santa Claus, which marks the end of the parade.

Other celebrities and musical groups taking part include Jon Batiste, Bell Biv DeVoe, Brandy, Jessie James Decker, Pentatonix and Miss America 2023 Grace Stanke. The parade also includes performances from the casts of some Broadway shows.

The parade was briefly disrupted when about a half-dozen protesters in jumpsuits covered in fake blood glued themselves to the street just in front of a float carrying characters from the fast food giant McDonald’s. They carried a banner that said “Free Palestine” and “Genocide then. Genocide now” and were taken into custody.

The parade continued as police worked.

New balloons debuting this year include Leo the lizard, a character from a Netflix film, who is more than 40 feet (12.5 meters) tall, as well as ones that have been there before — like SpongeBob, coming in at 44 feet (13.4 meters).

Some characters, like Snoopy, have been in the parade for many years, but this year’s balloon is a new Beagle Scout Snoopy version — celebrating the 50th anniversary of his first appearance in the Peanuts comics.

The parade isn’t just about what’s going on in the skies, though. At street level, the procession includes more than two dozen floats, interspersed with marching bands from around the country and a number of clown crews among the 8,000 people participating, organizers said.

Thousands lined the streets in coats on a chilly, sunny morning. Children were on the shoulders of their parents, shouting as characters like Bluey and Big Bird from Sesame Street passed by.

Terri Brown, her husband and their children, ages 3, 5 and 8, were groggy after the 30-mile (50-kilometer) drive from Westfield, New Jersey. But their faces lit up as the parade started.

“I’ve always wanted to bring them here since I used to come as a kid,” Brown said. “I’m happy it’s good weather.”

Ross Greenstein drove 10 hours from Michigan to catch the parade with his daughter, who is studying law in New York, as well as his wife and two other children. Before Thursday, he had only seen the parade on TV.

“I grew up every Thanksgiving, waking up and jumping on the couch and watching the parade,” Greenstein said. “We came to see the parade for the first time in my life and it feels very surreal.”

This is the 97th time the parade has been held since 1924.

The broadcast is hosted by Savannah Guthrie, Hoda Kotb and Al Roker from “Today” and airs on NBC.

President Joe Biden and his wife Jill called NBC during the parade. The president told Al Roker that people should take a moment to be thankful to live in a country with so much.

“We’re the greatest nation in the world. We should focus on that. We should focus on dealing with our problems and stop the rancor,” Biden said.