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Millions savor Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade

Watch TODAY's Al Roker cut the golden ribbon to kick off the annual celebration in New York City.

About 3.5 million people were expected to crowd the route of the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in New York on Thursday while an additional 50 million watched from home.

A jetpack-wearing monkey and a freakish creation from filmmaker Tim Burton are two of the big new balloons that will make their inaugural appearances, while Mary J. Blige, Cee Lo Green, Avril Lavigne and the Muppets are scheduled to take the stage at the end of the route in Herald Square.

Slideshow: See the colorful cast of characters taking part in the parade

Macy's parade will feature more than 40 other balloon creations, 27 floats, 800 clowns and 1,600 cheerleaders.


The parade began at 77th Street and heads south on Central Park West to Seventh Avenue, before moving to Sixth Avenue and ending at Macy's Herald Square.

Amy Kule, the executive producer of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, speaks with TODAY about one of the best jobs on the planet.

The tradition began in 1924 and included live animals such as camels, goats and elephants. It was not until 1927 that the live animals were replaced by giant helium balloons. The parade was suspended from 1942 to 1944 because rubber and helium were needed for World War II.

Since the beginning, the balloons have been based on popular cultural characters and holiday themes. Returning favorites this year include Buzz Lightyear, Clumsy Smurf, SpongeBob SquarePants and Kermit the Frog.

Bike-powered balloons
Also making their first appearances at this year's parade are a pair of bike-powered balloons, one featuring a bulldog character and an elf balloon designed by Queens resident Keith Lapinig, who won a nationwide contest.

All the balloons are created at Macy's Parade Studio, and each undergoes testing for flight patterns, aerodynamics, buoyancy and lift.

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The helium giants were inflated Wednesday across the street from the western side of Central Park. Thousands of people, many families with children in tow, were drawn to the spectacle of the balloons lying as if asleep on the streets, held down by weighted nets.

Standing in front of the famed Snoopy balloon, lying on its side, 8-year-old Emilio Rios said he was glad that there was something to keep the helium giant from getting away.

"Otherwise, it would float up to space, and aliens would see it," he said. "They would be the ones with the parade."

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Nine-year-old Lindsay Ravetz said she loved seeing all the characters.

"It's just, like, cool," she said.

It was cool even for many of the adults. Leslie McCarthy, who said she's over 60, has been attending the parade since she was a little girl. And the excitement of seeing the big balloons hasn't worn off.

"I used to think this parade was put on for me," the Brooklyn resident said.