Costumed characters and a marching band precede the Kermit The Frog balloon on Central Park West during the 86th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade,Thursday, Nov 22, 2012. (AP Photo/ Louis Lanzano)
The annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade went off without a hitch, putting a festive mood in the air in a city still coping with the aftermath of Sandy.
The young, and the young at heart, were delighted Thursday 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.
Some sat in a special viewing section set aside for residents displaced by the storm.
"It means a lot," said Karen Panetta, of the hard-hit Broad Channel section of Queens. "We're thankful to be here and actually be a family and to feel like life's a little normal today."
The popular parade, which starts at Central Park West and 77th Street and heads south to 34th Street, was attended by more than 3 million people and watched by 50 million on TV. It included 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.''
Alan Batt and his 11-year-old twins, Kyto and Elina, took in the parade at the end of the route, well away from the crowd and seemingly too far away for a good view. But they had an advantage: Two tall stepladders they hauled over from their apartment eight blocks away _ one for each twin.
"We're New Yorkers," the 65-year-old Batt said. "We know what we're doing."
With the height advantage, "I get to see everything!" Kyto said.
The holiday came as portions of the tri-state area were still reeling from Sandy's havoc, and volunteers worked to serve thousands of turkey dinners to people left homeless or struggling.
In the ravaged Belle Harbor section of Queens, 48-year-old Lauren Urban said the holiday felt bittersweet.
"I've lost the whole month of November," she said. Still, nearly a month after storm struck, "I'm becoming myself again," she added.
Others received free Thanksgiving meals, courtesy of New Jersey supermarket owner Peter Burrini.
"When we got there with the trucks, there were so many people, and in their faces was so much gratitude and pain," Burrini said.
Mayor Bloomberg was reflective Thursday as he praised police, firefighters, armed services personnel, sanitation workers and volunteers involved in the storm response. After stopping at the parade, Bloomberg was heading to a firehouse in the still-struggling Rockaways area of Queens.
Bloomberg's office was coordinating the distribution of 26,500 meals at 30 sites in neighborhoods affected by Sandy, and other organizations also were pitching in.
U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, whose New York district includes the 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!"
The disaster zones on Staten Island were flooded -- this time with food and volunteers from Glen Rock, N.J., organized using social media.
"We had three carloads of food," said volunteer Beth Fernandez. "The whole town of Glen Rock pitched in."
On Long Island, the Long Beach nonprofit Surf For All hosted a Thanksgiving event that fed 1,200 people. Carol Gross, 72, a Long Beach native, said she went to volunteer but was turned away because of a surplus of helpers.
"A lot of people like me, old-timers, we've never seen anything like this horror," she said, recalling the destruction.
Gross' brother, Jerry, who moved to Arizona in the 1960s, was stunned by what he saw when he returned for Thanksgiving.
"To come back and see the boardwalk all devastated like it is, it's like going to Manhattan and finding Times Square gone," he said.
George Alvarez, whose Toms River, N.J., home suffered moderate damage when Sandy hit the coast, said his family usually does "the traditional big dinner" on Thanksgiving. But this year, they chose to attend a community dinner held at an area church.
"This storm not only impacted us, it impacted a lot of our friends, our community, our psyche,'' Alvarez said shortly before his family headed out for their meal. "We could have had our usual dinner here at home, but this year it felt like we should be with others who are experiencing the same concerns we are. We made it through this devastating storm, and that's something to celebrate."