A giant, animatronic turkey is once again waddling down Central Park West at the head of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which returned on Thursday in its full, helium-filled glory.
Last holiday, the coronavirus forced officials to order a one-block long, nearly crowd-free version of the parade, which typically runs from 77th Street on the Upper West Side to Herald Square in Midtown Manhattan. The parade, which began in 1924 and is in its 95th iteration, has been canceled rarely, including during World War II.
Along the 2.5 mile route will stroll over 4,500 volunteers towing among them 15 giant helium balloons, old favorites like Smokey Bear, and newcomers like Ada Twist, Scientist, from the popular storybook, who clocks in at 51-feet tall.
The return of such sights — of large crowds, of public joy, of celebrities on floats and beloved characters transformed into balloons — felt deeply symbolic for many who anticipated the spectacle.
“Moments of celebration are important,” said Leroy Lamar, who came with his family to see the parade from Atlanta. “And it is important that we do them together.”
The 95th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on Thursday is notably different from last year’s limited celebration, which was reduced to just one block, with spectators discouraged from coming out.
Around 6,500 people will come together to work on this year’s parade, which will follow a 2.5-mile route through New York City, starting on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and ending in Midtown. Everyone who participates in the parade must be vaccinated, but there is no vaccination requirement for spectators.
Here’s what you need to know about this year’s festivities.
Who will broadcast the event?
The parade is being televised starting at 9 a.m. on NBC, Telemundo and the Peacock streaming service.
The “Today” show’s Al Roker, Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie are hosting the show, which will end at noon.
Where is the parade?
The parade started at 9 a.m. at West 77th Street and Central Park West, but there will be limited public viewing, or none at all, at that location.
Many fans arrived along the route hours earlier to get spots with unobstructed views of the performers. The best places for viewing the parade include Central Park West from West 75th to West 61st Streets, and Sixth Avenue from West 59th to West 38th Streets.
You can find a detailed map of the route here.
Who will be in the parade?
Performers in the parade will include Jon Batiste, Kelly Rowland, Nelly, Mickey Guyton and Carrie Underwood.
Some of the younger participants will include Ballet Hispánico’s School of Dance, the Young People’s Chorus of New York City and a group of competitive rope jumpers. Ten high school and college marching bands — including the Hampton University Marching Force — will also fill the streets. (Children under 12 will not be allowed to participate in the parade itself this year but will be allowed as spectators.)
There will also be 15 giant balloons and 28 floats. Some of the balloons will be as high as four-story buildings or as wide as six taxicabs.
A balloon resembling Grogu — a character from “The Mandalorian” who is also known as Baby Yoda — will fly above the parade Thursday, the first time a “Star Wars” balloon will be part of the festivities.
Ada from the Netflix show “Ada Twist, Scientist” will also make her debut in balloon form this year. The pen tucked behind her ear is the length of 27 real pens lined up.
Pokémon is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a new balloon of Pikachu and his friend Eevee sitting on a sleigh — the blades of which are about the same length as a semitrailer truck.
While McDonald’s has had a Ronald McDonald balloon in the parade since 1987, this year it will debut a new design. The balloon of Ronald McDonald will hold a giant red heart.
“Ronald is sharing his heart with us at a time when we all need some extra love,” the Macy’s website reads.
On Thursday, five members of the extended Dewar family stood on Central Park West at 81st Street in pastel pink and teal jumpsuits and hot pink wigs.
For nearly a decade, Raymond Dewar, the patriarch, had led them through the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. But he died in 2020, the year the extravaganza was cut short because of the pandemic.
Now they’re marching to honor Mr. Dewar, said Monique Dewar, one of his daughters.
“We are so happy to be here,” she said, standing next to family members, who were beaming under their masks. “The only problem with the mask,” she said, was “no clown makeup this year.”
The Dewars were joined by thousands of others who had to skip the parade last year.
Minutes before the kickoff, Sergeant Gabriel Vazquez of the New York City Parks Department, sat on an American spotted draft horse named Apollo, holding up an American flag.
He hasn’t ridden in the parade in several years he said, but this year he couldn’t miss it.
Atop his horse, striding down the route, he said, “It’s like we are walking back toward normal.”
For a moment it seemed New York City was almost back to normal.
After the pandemic forced an attenuated, blocklong version of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade last year, this year the iconic event was set to roar back to life, with the full complement of floats, balloons, and marching bands expected to parade on Thursday all along Central Park West to Herald Square.
And once again it kicked off on Wednesday with another tradition, known locally as “Inflation Day” — the public viewing on 72nd Street of the giant Pikachu, Papa Smurf, Smokey Bear and other balloon stars as they were filled with helium for the parade.
“Anyone wishing to see the inflation of the balloons must get off at this station,” a train driver for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said over the loudspeaker of an uptown C train as it pulled in to the 72nd Street subway station “This is where you see the balloons.”
Just up the subway stairs was another, less welcoming announcement. “Welcome to fascist New York!” an anti-vaccine demonstrator shouted repeatedly at the crowd, which included little children, parents, and veterans in wheelchairs, as they passed by on their way to view the balloons.
And as people streamed east on 71st Street, they were met by a gauntlet of people in red pinnies with “vax checker” written on their backs. The checkers asked everyone to show their identification and vaccination cards, and to put on a face mask.
On 81st Street, Diane Roberts, who works in media in Washington, D.C., was celebrating a what she called a milestone birthday a year late — she refused to say which one — with four best friends who were at last able to travel from around the country to be with her.
Just speaking about being able to see the parade brought tears to her eyes. She wasn’t bothered by the vaccine checkers, the crowd control or the necessity of masks. “It is a cloud over it but it but I still think it’s better to be here masked then not to be here at all,” she said.
A few blocks away was the Lamar family, visiting from Atlanta, Georgia, on their first family trip since the pandemic began more than 20 months ago. They were taking in a giant green dinosaur. “Moments of celebration are important,” Leroy Lamar, who runs a nonprofit organization, said. “And it is important that we do them together.”
The European Medicines Agency approved on Thursday the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, bringing European governments one step closer to inoculating young children.
The recommendation of the European Union’s drug regulator will now be sent to the European Commission, the bloc’s administrative arm, for final approval, which it is expected to do swiftly. It will then be up to the national health authorities to decide if and when they will start inoculating young children.
The decision comes amid a Covid spike across the bloc. The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control said on Wednesday that European governments should accelerate their vaccination rates, consider booster shots for adults and tighten restrictions in order to avoid a “very high burden” on national health care systems. Approximately 66 percent of the European Union’s total population has been fully inoculated, according to E.C.D.C. data.
The regulator approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children aged 12 to 15 in May, in what the agency called “an important step forward in the fight against the pandemic.”
Canada’s health regulator on Wednesday granted full approval for Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine, making Canada the first nation to do so.
The decision was made after a third phase of a study showed the shot was 85 percent effective in preventing severe disease and, starting 28 days after vaccination, from death.
“Today marks the first major regulatory approval for the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine and an important moment to recognize the dedication of everyone involved in our Covid-19 vaccine development, our partners, the regulators and clinical study participants,” said Paul Stoffels, the company’s chief scientific officer.
Use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the United States has not been as widespread as that of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, and studies have found the Johnson vaccine provides less protection than the other two. In April, use of the vaccine came to a sudden halt after U.S. health agencies called for a brief pause so they could study a rare blood-clotting disorder that emerged in six recipients.
The Food and Drug Administration authorized Johnson & Johnson booster shots last month, despite concern among the F.D.A.’s expert advisory panel that data in the company’s application was limited and wasn’t independently verified.
Some F.D.A. experts and committee members argued that recipients of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine needed an additional shot to bolster against severe Covid-19, since that vaccine was less effective than those of Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech.
The F.D.A. discussed data with the committee showing that Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine was only roughly 70 percent effective against hospitalization, compared with around 90 percent for the Moderna and Pfizer shots. But other data, including from a study of nearly nine million people in New York State, found better results from a single dose of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, including for older Americans, by offering durable protection.
Johnson & Johnson doses have been distributed abroad through Covax, the global vaccine-sharing program, in an effort to bolster immunity in poorer countries, including many in Africa.
Many of those shots have been provided through a deal reached in May, under which Johnson & Johnson agreed to sell about 200 million doses to Covax at a discounted rate. Last week, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said that the United States had negotiated a deal to ship additional doses of the vaccine overseas, to help people living in conflict zones.
The tragedy at a parade in Waukesha came less than a week from one of the country’s best known events: the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.
Concern about intentional attacks on the parade have long driven law enforcement efforts to secure the route. And New York has seen vehicle ramming turn deadly at other crowded events in recent years.
In 2017, a driver who was apparently under the influence of drugs rammed into crowded sidewalks in Times Square, killing one and injuring more than 20 people before security barricades stopped him. And, later that same year, a 29-year-old man rammed his pickup truck into pedestrian traffic along the busy West Side Highway, killing eight and injuring 11.
More recently, in September 2020, a vehicle rammed through a crowd of demonstrators who were protesting police brutality in Times Square.
But the scale of the Thanksgiving parade in New York is so large that it is difficult to draw comparisons, a law enforcement official said. The parade for years has been seen as a high-value target for extremist and terror groups.
“You can’t really take an incident that occurs at a holiday parade in a relatively small city and compare it to what we do in New York City for that event,” said John Miller, the deputy commissioner for the Police Department’s Intelligence Bureau.
The space around the parade is what is known as a “hardened route,” cordoned off from traffic by cars that block roads, sand-filled dump trucks and long gun teams, Mr. Miller said. The security measures include tools as mundane as metal barriers and as high-tech as radiation detectors fastened to the belts of police officers. And, the entire route is blanketed by the Lower and Midtown Manhattan Security Initiatives, a surveillance dragnet that overlays tactics like license plate readers and video surveillance to secure Midtown and Lower Manhattan.
“We don’t worry. We plan,” Mr. Miller said. “It’s a better use of our time.”