NEW YORK — Giant balloons once again wafted through miles of Manhattan, wrangled by costumed handlers. High school and college marching bands from around the country were back, and so were the crowds at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
After being crimped by the coronavirus pandemic last year, the holiday tradition returned in full Thursday, though with precautions.
“It really made Thanksgiving feel very festive and full of life,” Sierra Guardiola, a 23-year-old interior design firm assistant, said after watching the spectacle in a turkey-shaped hat.
Thousands of marchers, hundreds of clowns, dozens of balloons and floats — and, of course, Santa Claus — marked the latest U.S. holiday event to make a comeback as vaccines, familiarity and sheer frustration made officials and some of the public more comfortable with big gatherings amid the ongoing pandemic.
To President Joe Biden, the parade’s full-fledged return was a sign of renewal, and he called NBC broadcaster Al Roker on-air to say so.
“After two years, we’re back. America is back. There’s nothing we’re unable to overcome,” Biden said over the phone from Nantucket, Massachusetts, where he was watching the broadcast with his family.
Still, safety measures continued. Parade staffers and volunteers had to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and wear masks, though some singers and performers were allowed to shed them. There was no inoculation requirement for spectators, but Macy’s and the city encouraged them to cover their faces.
Asahi Pompey said she made a point of getting her vaccine booster shot Wednesday and wore a mask while in the crowd, but COVID-19 concerns couldn’t keep her away.
“It feels really phenomenal to be here. It feels like New York is on its way to recovery,” said Pompey, 49, a lawyer.
“It’s like the whole spirit of New York has come and gathered so we can be together,” added her school-age son, Sebastian Pompey-Schoelkopf.
Getting to watch the nearly century-old parade this year on the street, instead of a screen, was “incredible” for Katie Koth. The 26-year-old teacher was at the event for the first time.
“The energy is crazy, and the crowd was amazing,” she said.