Americans gathered on Thursday to celebrate Thanksgiving, stuffing turkeys for family feasts, braving high winds and the bitter cold along parade routes and starting their holiday shopping one day earlier this year.
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 City a break with winds just below the level that would have grounded Snoopy, Sonic the Hedgehog and other giant helium balloons in Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. City regulations prohibit them from flying when sustained winds top 23 miles per hour (37 km per hour), and gusts exceed 34 mph (55 kph).
With a high-calorie feast looming, some Americans participated in morning running races called turkey trots. In Glen Ridge, New Jersey, 3,000 people turned out, with some wearing turkey hats and headbands decorated with turkey drumsticks.
"On Thanksgiving, I'm grateful I can still run five miles (eight km) 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, 54, a marketing analyst from Maplewood, New Jersey.
Shoppers got their earliest jump ever on the pre-Christmas shopping season, with "Black Friday" deals being offered before Thanksgiving tables were even set. In New York, the Lord & Taylor flagship store on Fifth Avenue welcomed shoppers at 9 a.m. EST (1400 GMT) and around Times Square, most shops, from chains to specialty stores, conducted business as usual.
The early openings have prompted protests and an online petition drive by critics who say it takes workers away from their families on Thanksgiving.
The Macy's parade, in its 87th year, was expected to be viewed by some 3 million others along its route through Manhattan and another 50 million people on television. But this year it has attracted some controversy.
Rocker musician Joan Jett, who is a vegetarian and animal-rights activist, was moved off the South Dakota tourism float after cattle ranchers complained, although she remained in the parade.
A SeaWorld float also stayed in the parade despite an outcry over keeping orcas in captivity by animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
In a rare coincidence, Thanksgiving overlaps with the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah this year, which has sparked the nickname 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.
In complicated calculations of the Gregorian and Jewish calendars, the two holidays will not fall on the same day again until 2070, according to the Jewish website Chabad.org.
Some 43 million people are expected to take trips over the holiday weekend, according to travel group AAA, despite heavy rain, wind and snow across parts of the eastern United States that started on Wednesday and snarled roadways and airports.
In Augusta, Maine, temperatures fell to 26 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 3 degrees Celsius) and in Boston the mercury dropped to 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 Celsius), though the wind chill made it feel much colder in both places, meteorologists said on Weather.com
IN THE KITCHENS
Even after arriving safely, families may find challenges in the kitchen this holiday. Butterball LLC has reported a shortage of large, fresh turkeys, company spokeswoman Megan Downey said in an email message, adding an investigation was under way.
At the White House, where first lady Michelle Obama is known for her focus on healthy eating, there was no sign of calorie cutting from the Thanksgiving menu. The Obamas were set to enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving meal, including nine types of pies: huckleberry, pecan, sweet potato, peach, apple, pumpkin, chocolate cream, banana cream and coconut cream.
Also on the menu, according to the White House: turkey, honey-baked ham, macaroni and cheese, sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and two kinds of stuffing - cornbread and oyster.
Perhaps the biggest surprise this Thanksgiving is the upending of two common perceptions about men's role in the traditional turkey dinner.
Research by Butterball found that 84 percent of men take part in Thanksgiving meal preparation and that men are more likely than women to ask for directions when it comes to cooking the bird and its trimmings.