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Americans mark Thanksgiving Day with travel, parades, shopping

A shopper waits with her bags in the Times Square Toys 'R' Us on Nov 28, 2013, in New York. Instead of waiting for Black Friday, which is typically the year's biggest shopping day, more than a dozen major retailers are opening on Thanksgiving this ye
A shopper waits with her bags in the Times Square Toys 'R' Us on Nov 28, 2013, in New York. Instead of waiting for Black Friday, which is typically the year's biggest shopping day, more than a dozen major retailers are opening on Thanksgiving this year. -- PHOTO: AP
Spectators react as the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade makes it's way down New York's Central Park West on Nov. 28, 2013. -- PHOTO: AP
Spectators react as the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade makes it's way down New York's Central Park West on Nov. 28, 2013. -- PHOTO: AP
A police officer stands on 6th Avenue as spectators wait behind a barricade during the 87th Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York on Nov 28, 2013. -- PHOTO: AP
A police officer stands on 6th Avenue as spectators wait behind a barricade during the 87th Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York on Nov 28, 2013. -- PHOTO: AP
Shoppers looking for a bargains shop during the Thanksgiving holiday on Nov 28, 2013, at the Toys 'R' Us store in Fairfax, Virginia. Instead of waiting for Black Friday, which is typically the year's biggest shopping day, more than a dozen major reta
Shoppers looking for a bargains shop during the Thanksgiving holiday on Nov 28, 2013, at the Toys 'R' Us store in Fairfax, Virginia. Instead of waiting for Black Friday, which is typically the year's biggest shopping day, more than a dozen major retailers are opening on Thanksgiving this year. -- PHOTO: AFP
Employees assist customers with their purchases at the Times Square Toys 'R' Us in New York on Nov 28, 2013. Instead of waiting for Black Friday, which is typically the year's biggest shopping day, more than a dozen major retailers are opening on Tha
Employees assist customers with their purchases at the Times Square Toys 'R' Us in New York on Nov 28, 2013. Instead of waiting for Black Friday, which is typically the year's biggest shopping day, more than a dozen major retailers are opening on Thanksgiving this year. -- PHOTO: AP
Thanksgiving Day holiday shoppers wait in line to buy a television at the Best Buy retail store in North Aurora, Illinois, on Nov 28, 2013. Instead of waiting for Black Friday, which is typically the year's biggest shopping day, more than a dozen maj
Thanksgiving Day holiday shoppers wait in line to buy a television at the Best Buy retail store in North Aurora, Illinois, on Nov 28, 2013. Instead of waiting for Black Friday, which is typically the year's biggest shopping day, more than a dozen major retailers are opening on Thanksgiving this year. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
The Hello Kitty balloon floats down Central Park West during the 87th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, on Nov 28, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
The Hello Kitty balloon floats down Central Park West during the 87th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, on Nov 28, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A giant Snoopy balloon is marched through Columbus Circle during the 87th Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York on Nov 28, 2013. -- PHOTO: AP
A giant Snoopy balloon is marched through Columbus Circle during the 87th Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York on Nov 28, 2013. -- PHOTO: AP
People dressed as clowns attend the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City on Nov 28, 2013. -- PHOTO: AFP
People dressed as clowns attend the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City on Nov 28, 2013. -- PHOTO: AFP
Richard Simmons attends the 87th Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City on Nov 28, 2013. -- PHOTO: AFP
Richard Simmons attends the 87th Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City on Nov 28, 2013. -- PHOTO: AFP
The Spiderman balloon makes it way across New York's Central Park South during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on Nov 28, 2013. -- PHOTO: AP
The Spiderman balloon makes it way across New York's Central Park South during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on Nov 28, 2013. -- PHOTO: AP
Parade participants dressed as candy canes wave to the crowd as they make their way down New York's Central Park West during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on Nov 28, 2013. -- PHOTO: AP
Parade participants dressed as candy canes wave to the crowd as they make their way down New York's Central Park West during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on Nov 28, 2013. -- PHOTO: AP
Cheerleaders walk down Sixth Avenue during the 87th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, on Nov 28, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Cheerleaders walk down Sixth Avenue during the 87th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, on Nov 28, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
An Uncle Sam balloon floats down Sixth Avenue during the 87th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, on Nov 28, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
An Uncle Sam balloon floats down Sixth Avenue during the 87th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, on Nov 28, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Saban's Power Rangers Super Megaforce greet fans as they walk in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City on Nov 28, 2013. -- PHOTO: AP
Saban's Power Rangers Super Megaforce greet fans as they walk in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City on Nov 28, 2013. -- PHOTO: AP
Saban's Power Rangers Super Megaforce walk alongside the Earth balloon, ready to save the world during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City on Nov 28, 2013. -- PHOTO: AP
Saban's Power Rangers Super Megaforce walk alongside the Earth balloon, ready to save the world during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City on Nov 28, 2013. -- PHOTO: AP
Measuring 12.5m tall, 20m long and 12m wide, Paul Frank's Julius the monkey flies through New York City as one of the largest balloons during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York on Nov 28, 2013. -- PHOTO: AP
Measuring 12.5m tall, 20m long and 12m wide, Paul Frank's Julius the monkey flies through New York City as one of the largest balloons during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York on Nov 28, 2013. -- PHOTO: AP
Spectators dressed as turkeys stand behind police barricades as they wait for the 87th Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, on Nov 28, 2013, in New York. Americans gathered on Thursday to celebrate Thanksgiving by stuffing turkeys and braving
Spectators dressed as turkeys stand behind police barricades as they wait for the 87th Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, on Nov 28, 2013, in New York. Americans gathered on Thursday to celebrate Thanksgiving by stuffing turkeys and braving cold winds along parade routes, while others started the holiday shopping earlier than ever in a trend that some argued went against the spirit of the holiday. -- PHOTO: AP 

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Americans gathered on Thursday to celebrate Thanksgiving by stuffing turkeys and braving cold winds along parade routes, while others started the holiday shopping earlier than ever in a trend that some argued went against the spirit of the holiday.

With "Black Friday" deals being offered before Thanksgiving tables were even set on Thursday, 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," Ms Holly Cassiano, who refused to open her Sears franchise in Plymouth, New Hampshire, told CNN.

Whole Foods, meanwhile, said its Thanksgiving work shifts were voluntary and it would compensate staff with time-and-a-half pay. 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 City 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 Spiderman limped along after its left arm was torn after getting snagged on a tree branch. City regulations prohibit the massive inflatables from flying when sustained winds top 37kmh, and gusts exceed 55kmh.

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 8km so it's a great way to start the day since I'll be in the kitchen for the rest of it," said Ms Patty Orsini, 54, a marketing analyst from Maplewood, New Jersey.

Elsewhere, eager consumers got a jump on the pre-Christmas shopping season, which has six fewer days than 2012. In New York, the Lord & Taylor flagship store on Fifth Avenue welcomed shoppers at 9AM EST (10PM Singapore time) and it was business as usual at most shops around Times Square. However, early visits by Reuters to many stores found sparse crowds.

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.

"THANKSGIVUKKAH"

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.

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 roadway and airport traffic.

In Augusta, Maine, temperatures fell to minus 3 deg C and in Boston the mercury dropped to 0 deg C, 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 spokesman Megan Downey said in an email message, adding that 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 on the Thanksgiving menu. The Obamas were set to enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving meal, including nine different pies: huckleberry, pecan, sweet potato, peach, apple, pumpkin, chocolate cream, banana cream and coconut cream.

Cooks also prepared honey-baked ham, macaroni and cheese, sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and two kinds of stuffing - cornbread and oyster, the White House said.

On the menu for inmates in Arizona under the watch of controversial Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio was a 56-cent meal featuring an entree of vegetarian turkey soy casserole.

"Hope the inmates give thanks for this special meal being served in the jails tomorrow," Mr Arpaio said in a holiday meal preview he tweeted on Wednesday.