A high-kicking Kung Fu Panda and a diary-toting Wimpy Kid joined the giant balloon lineup as the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade unfolded Thursday, drawing tens of thousands of spectators to the annual extravaganza on a chilly, overcast morning.
As millions more watched the live broadcast on television, entertainers on tap included Kanye West, Gladys Knight, Keri Hilson, Jessica Simpson and Colombian rocker Juanes. The Broadway casts of "American Idiot" and "Elf" were scheduled to perform, along with marching bands from across the United States.
Another new balloon character was Virginia O'Hanlon, the 8-year-old girl whose letter to the editor elicited the response, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus." Returning balloons included Smurf, Pillsbury Doughboy and Spider-Man - the last with a new fan in Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He said in a CBS interview that he had traditionally favored Snoopy, but after the Marvel Entertainment character was involved in a recent event promoting city services for job-seekers, "Spidey is my new favorite."
Other celebrities expected at the parade include India Arie, Keri Hilson, Arlo Guthrie and Miranda Cosgrove.
The Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade started in 1924 when employees from the department store marched in costume from Harlem to Macy's flagship store on 34th Street. The parade was suspended from 1942 to 1944 because rubber and helium were needed for World War II, making Thursday's parade the 84th.
The parade followed the route it inaugurated last year, starting on Central Park West and proceeding down Seventh and Sixth avenues to 34th Street. The route had to be changed when vehicles were banned from parts of Broadway. Workers had removed street lights and traffic lights to make way for the massive balloons and were standing by to replace the equipment.
"As soon as Santa Claus drives by, the poles go back up," said Tom Carola, a worker with an electrical-contracting company hired by the city.