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On Thanksgiving, Macy's parade balloons hover, soldiers dine in Afghanistan, runners vie in turkey trots

| Friday, Nov. 29, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

NEW YORK — Americans gathered to celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday by stuffing turkeys and braving cold wind along parade routes, while others started their holiday shopping earlier than ever in a trend that some argued goes against the spirit of the holiday.

With retailers offering “Black Friday” deals before Thanksgiving tables were even set, critics circulated online petitions and a handful of franchise owners said they had defied corporate orders by keeping their stores closed for the holiday.

“It bothers me that this country is allowing them to dictate time away from our families,” Holly Cassiano, who refused to open her Sears franchise in Plymouth, N.H., told CNN.

Grocer Whole Foods Market said its Thanksgiving work shifts were voluntary and it would compensate staff with time-and-a-half pay. Discount chain Kmart said it had offered its holiday workers the same arrangement.

On a clear, sunny Thanksgiving, nose-diving morning temperatures after a rainy, snowy evening along the East Coast made for slick conditions during one of the nation's busiest travel times.

Mother Nature gave New York a break with winds just below the level that would have grounded Snoopy and other giant helium balloons in Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, although Spider-Man limped along after its left arm was torn by a tree branch. City regulations prohibit the inflatables from flying high when gusts exceed 34 mph.

With a high-calorie feast looming, some Americans participated in morning running races called turkey trots. In Glen Ridge, N.J., 3,000 people turned out, with some wearing turkey hats and headbands decorated with drumsticks.

“On Thanksgiving, I'm grateful I can still run 5 miles, so it's a great way to start the day since I'll be in the kitchen for the rest of it,” said Patty Orsini, a marketing analyst from Maplewood, N.J.

The Defense Department said it sent 70,000 pounds of turkey and all the fixings this year to the roughly 45,000 U.S. troops on duty in Afghanistan.

As the military escalates its withdrawal from Afghanistan, fewer such holiday meals will be necessary. But this year, the Defense-supplied Thanksgiving feast is a sober reminder that for legions of troops, the job isn't over.

The soldiers of Chaos Company, 10th Mountain Brigade, 4th Division had a special Thanksgiving meal on Forward Operating Base Torkham in eastern Afghanistan. Torkham is a small Afghan town fast by the Pakistani border. It is in the Khyber Pass, a historical trade route through central Asia that was part of the famed Silk Road.

In the dining facility the commanders served the food to the soldiers. One soldier said that “it's the only time we get to tell the commanders what to do.”

The Macy's parade, in its 87th year, was expected to be viewed by about 3 million others along its route through Manhattan and 50 million people on television.

In a rare coincidence, Thanksgiving overlaps with the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah this year, which has sparked creation of the term “Thanksgivukkah” and spurred an enterprising 10-year-old boy, Asher Weintraub of New York, to design a turkey-shaped menorah — called a Menurkey — for dinner tables.

The two holidays will not fall on the same day again until 2070, according to the Jewish website Chabad.org.

About 43 million people were expected to take trips this weekend, according to travel group AAA, despite heavy rain, wind and snow across parts of the East Coast that started on Wednesday and snarled roadway and airport traffic.

At the White House, the Obamas were set to enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving meal, including nine pies — huckleberry, pecan, sweet potato, peach, apple, pumpkin, chocolate cream, banana cream and coconut cream.

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