A SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) officer stands guard during the 91st Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, the United States, Nov. 23, 2017 (Xinhua Photo/Li Muzi)
NEW YORK/WASHINGTON/CHICAGO/HOUSTON, Nov. 23 (Xinhua) -- Americans celebrated the Thanksgiving on Thursday, with huge crowds lining big cities for traditional parades amid tight security and many others enjoying turkey feast with families and friends.
In New York City, the traditional Macy's parade rolled on with thousands of people packing Manhattan streets to watch marching bands, eleborate floats and enormous balloons.
About 3.5 million revelers took to the streets of New York City Thursday for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade as police went all-out to secure the 91-year-old extravaganza, one of the nation's biggest outdoor holiday events.
For many Americans, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade has been as much a part of Thanksgiving as turkey and football since 1924.
Interestingly, the parade's signature balloons began as a solution to a problem.
The events at the first three years featured not floating fantasy creatures, but real ones like tigers, elephants, camels and donkeys from the Central Park Zoo.
Instead of entertaining the thousands of children watching, the animals scared them. So organizers in 1927 experimented with a new star: Felix the Cat, oversized and full of air, floating feet above the ground.
Now each giant balloon requires around 90 tether-holding handlers to string them along.
ARMED COPS REMAINS ON EDGE
New York Police Department increased security Thursday along the parade route as the parade came after a truck killed eight people when it mowed down pedestrians near the World Trade Centre in October, the deadliest terrorist attack since 9/11.
Police officers with assault weapons and portable radiation detectors were circulating among the crowds, sharpshooters were on rooftops and sand-filled city sanitation trucks were poised as imposing barriers to traffic at every cross street. Each of the 81 blocker trucks weigh 16 tons. Filled with sand, they weigh up to twice as much.
NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner James O'Neill have also encouraged spectators to say something if they saw something.
In his Thanksgiving message to the police department, O'Neill thanked the force for spending their holiday keeping others safe, particularly the thousands deployed at the parade.
"Policing is a unique profession and you carry out your duties uniquely well - every day of the year. I know the sacrifices you make, including being away from your own families on holidays like this," he said.
The large-scale parade proved to be safe and secure except a group of demonstrators protesting U.S. President Donald Trump's immigration policies, briefly blocking the parade route before cops removed them.
The protesters are young people who came into the country undocumented, but were allowed to stay, according to the Seed Project.
"I am doing this to bring dignity to our undocumented community, without fear. I want to bring awareness that while some families are together, others are being torn apart," one of the protesters said.
Performers marched in State street during the Thanksgiving Day Parade in Chicago, the United States, Nov. 23, 2017 (Xinhua Photo/Wang Ping)
In Chicago, the annual McDonald's Thanksgiving Parade rolled out under tight security along Chicago's Cultural Walk State Street Thursday morning.
Salt trucks have blocked all the intersections along the more than one-mile-long parade route; Chicago Police Department (CPD) has gone all out, positioning one officer every 10 meters on both sides of the street facing the crowd, observing any irregularities at all times.
Due to recent terror attacks occurred in public spaces in several U.S. cities, it is not a surprise that Chicago, the third largest city in the U.S., has tightened the security for its 84th annual parade.
The fact is that at the beginning of the holiday season, the CPD has taken security precautions all over the city. Besides increasing the presence of the police in all major places in the city and placing concrete barricades and metal fences around the perimeter of Daley Plaza, the site where the annual Christkindlmarket is running until Christmas Eve in downtown Chicago, CPD has deployed plainclothes officers at all large holiday events, according to CPD Chief of Organized Crime Anthony Riccio.
Thanks to the efforts, Chicago's McDonald's Thanksgiving Parade has run smoothly, and drawn tens of thousands of spectators.
Of over 100 groups of floats, marching bands, equestrian units, and performers in the parade, several groups are especially eye-catching. People from local Chinese communities shared rich Chinese cultural traditions with Panda, the Beijing Opera consumes, martial arts, and Chinese songs and dances.
As holiday celebrations kick off one by one in Chicago, the city' s Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC) suggest anyone attending large holiday events downtown keep vigilant, and be aware of the surroundings, and report any suspicious activity.
In Houston, the U.S. state of Texas, the 68th Annual Houston Thanksgiving Day Parade was held Thursday morning in the downtown area.
The parade marked the beginning of the holiday season for many in Houston. This year's themes are: Houston is Thankful, Houston is Strong, Houston is Tradition and Houston is Family.
The parade included dozens of floats, balloons, marching bands, artistic entries and live, and, especially, the "Mayor' s Citywide Sing-along," meaning that Parade-goers can join Marquist Taylor to sing "Lean on Me."
Every year there is a competition, and there were two or three new floats added to switch things up and keep the crowds interested. This year's parade had 15 never-before-seen balloons.
Hundreds of thousands of people packed the streets to enjoy the high-flying balloons and super energetic acts, and some came as early as 4 a.m. local time.
The Houston police beefed up security measures for the thanksgiving holiday. Some police officers are carrying semi-automatic rifles at airports. The Houston Police Department has said that the officer who carry the AR-15 rifles are highly trained to use them, and not every police officer will carry one.
Grand Turkey dinner, annual Macy's Parade in New York City, football games on TV, these are cherished traditions but not the only things are expected in this first winter holiday in the United States.
This year, a number of big-box stores across the country, including Best Buy, Wal-Mart, and Big Lots, are starting the frenzied shopping early by opening on Thanksgiving Day, one day before the Black Friday which is known for deals.
However, the practice is not likely to be welcomed by everyone. Employees have to leave their families on the holiday and some consumers feel that to get the best deals, they must go shopping on Thanksgiving instead of enjoying companion of other family members or just having a rest.
"As you start thinking about holiday shopping, keep in mind that an alarming number of shoppers are still paying off debt from last Christmas," a USA Today report warned Thursday.
On Thanksgiving each year, many Americans also seek to volunteer at soup kitchens or food banks in the spirit of giving. Many others may choose to give money, donate clothing or participate in a charity turkey trot.
In Washington D.C., more than 300 volunteers, of all ages and faiths, signed up Monday night to prepare more than 25,000 portions of side dishes for the annual charity cook-off at the Edlavitch Jewish Community Center, according to a report from the local WAMU 88.5 public radio station.
"It's this really massive push to get all that food out," the report quoted Amy Bachman of D.C. Central Kitchen. "It's 5,000 servings of each item... which is pretty incredible." The charity will also throw in pies and about 600 turkeys, all donated by various organizations.
By Turkey Day, D.C. Central Kitchen will have distributed food to local homeless shelters, rehab clinics and other nonprofits in the D.C. region, helping to fill the city's food gap for at least one night.
A recent study by the group Feeding America estimates that nearly a third of D.C. residents under age 18 face food insecurity, which the U.S. government defines as "limited or uncertain access to adequate food."