Americans gathered on Thursday to celebrate Thanksgiving, stuffing turkeys for feasts, braving high winds along parade routes and planning for the holiday shopping season, which starts one day earlier this year.
Nose-diving morning temperatures after a rainy, snowy evening along the East Coast made for slick conditions during one of the nation's busiest travel times.
But Mother Nature gave New York City a break with winds just below the level that would have grounded Snoopy, Sonic the Hedgehog and other giant helium balloons in Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. City regulations prohibit them from flying when sustained winds top 23 miles per hour (37 km per hour), and gusts exceed 34 mph (55 kph).
"Let the balloons fly!" Macy's said on Twitter on Thursday morning.
The parade, in its 87th year and expected to be viewed by 50 million people on television and some 3 million others along its route through Manhattan, has proved to be controversial this year. Rocker musician Joan Jett, who is a vegetarian and animal-rights activist, was moved off the South Dakota tourism float - but kept in the parade after cattle ranchers complained.
The parade still includes SeaWorld's float despite an outcry over keeping orcas in captivity by animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
In a rare coincidence, Thanksgiving overlaps with the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah this year, which has sparked the nickname Thanksgivukkah and spurred an enterprising 10-year-old boy, Asher Weintraub of New York, to design a turkey-shaped menorah - called a Menurkey - for dinner tables.
The two holidays will not fall on the same day again until 2070, according to the Jewish website Chabad.org.
Some retailers also are opening on Thanksgiving evening to offer the earliest "Black Friday" shopping deals ever. About 140 million people are expected to shop over the four-day weekend, traditionally the start of the holiday shopping season, according to the National Retail Federation.
That move has prompted protests and an online petition drive by critics who say it takes workers away from their families on Thanksgiving.
Some 43 million people are expected to make trips over the holiday weekend, according to travel group AAA, despite a blast of heavy rain, wind and snow across the eastern United States that started on Wednesday and snarled roadways and airports.
In Augusta, Maine, temperatures dipped to 26 degrees Fahrenheit (-3 degrees Celsius) and in Boston the mercury dropped to 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius), though the wind chill make it feel much colder in both places, meteorologists said on Weather.com
Even after arriving safely, families may find challenges in the kitchen this holiday. Butterball LLC, for the first time has reported a shortage of large, fresh turkeys, company spokeswoman Megan Downey said in an email message, adding that an investigation was underway.
Perhaps the biggest surprise this Thanksgiving is the upending of two common perceptions about men's role in the traditional turkey dinner.
Research by Butterball found that 84 percent of men take part in Thanksgiving meal preparation and that men are more likely than women to ask for directions when it comes to cooking the bird and its trimmings.
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