The big balloons soared along with the crowd's spirits Thursday as the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade made its way through the streets of New York City.

There'd been some concerns about whether the wind could keep 16 giant balloons grounded, but the cherished tradition prevailed.

"We thought they'd find a way to pull it off," said parade-goer John Mispagel, of San Jose, Calif. "It's really fun seeing so many people having such a great time."

Balloon handlers were keeping a tight grip on their inflated characters and held them fairly close to the ground in tree-lined areas. The wind was around 42 km/h.

Macy's parade

Balloon handlers were keeping a tight grip on their inflated characters and held them fairly close to the ground in tree-lined areas during the 87th Macy's Thanksgiving day parade in New York. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Mispagel and his wife, Susan, said Sonic the Hedgehog got caught on a tree while rounding a corner near the start of the parade route; handlers used cutters on a rope to free the balloon.

The cheering throngs were bundled against a –1 C chill, but the sun was shining. Some in the crowd lifted small children onto their shoulders.

An excited 9-year-old Lily Thomolaris, of Pittsburgh, was excited to "see all the balloons." But she especially thought a big turkey was really cool.

Matthew Ragbe, 11, lives in the neighbourhood and came out to enjoy the sights. His twin brother decided not to leave their warm apartment.

"He's probably watching the parade on TV," Matthew said. "Loser."

"Lazy is more like the operative word," joked their mother, Alison Ragbe.

Presidential pardons

Elsewhere in the country, Thanksgiving traditions were unaffected by the weather.

Jim Leyland, former manager of the Detroit Tigers, served as grand marshal of that city's Thanksgiving Day parade, which is billed as the nation's second largest, behind New York's. Revellers braved snow showers and slick roads.

Santa Claus Macy's

Santa Claus waves as he rides on his float down Central Park West during the 87th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. (Gary Hershorn/Reuters)

In Washington on Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama pardoned two 17-kg turkeys named Popcorn and Caramel, fulfilling the annual presidential tradition.

In a holiday edition of his weekend radio and internet address, Obama gave thanks for the country's founders, the generations who followed, and members of the military, and their families, for the sacrifices they make.

He expressed gratitude for the freedoms service members defend, including speech, religion and the right to choose America's leaders. And he had kind words for those who work to make America a more compassionate place.

Also Wednesday, two American astronauts on board the International Space Station, Mike Hopkins and Rick Mastracchio, released a video from 418 kilometres above Earth showing off their traditional Thanksgiving meal: irradiated smoked turkey, thermostabilized yams, cornbread dressing, potatoes, freeze-dried asparagus, baked beans, bread, cobbler and dehydrated green bean casserole.