All along Central Park West on Thursday, throngs of people gathered for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and packed street corners or sat on folding chairs set up since dawn. They wedged themselves on slivers of sidewalk, and some placed their toddlers atop food carts for a better view.
Madison Burgess, 26, was kind of over it.
“You don’t realize how slow the cadence is in real life,” she said as she left the parade route. For nearly three hours, Ms. Burgess added, she had peered up at balloons of animated characters like Bluey, Goku and Monkey D. Luffy. She had watched the event only on television, and as a TV production coordinator, she realized how she preferred seeing the spectacle. “Edited,” she said.
The parade, a tradition for nearly a century, provided the usual holiday cheer but also a platform for protesters who throughout the day sought to draw attention to various issues, including climate change and the war between Israel and Hamas. Some tried to glue themselves to the parade route, others swarmed the floats parked at its end, waving Palestinian flags and chanting.
“Thanksgiving is a time that we actually celebrate all of the rights and freedoms that we have,” said Mun Chong, a spokeswoman for Seven Circles Alliance, a consortium of activist groups that had representatives at the event. Ms. Chong said that a call to protest on behalf of Palestinians had circulated in advance on social media. “It is important to recognize people overseas that don’t have the same freedom.”
The New York City Police Department confirmed that protesters were detained at the parade, but could not say how many.
On Thursday, the 31 floats included newcomers like “Camp Snoopy” (a Peanuts campground on wheels), the “Good Burger Mobile” (a convertible with a sesame bun for a hood) and “Mutant Mayhem” (a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle street scene). They, along with 25 giant helium-filled and six bike-borne balloons (called “Balloonicles” by Macy’s), eased down the avenues.
They swayed and floated to the beats of 11 marching bands, including Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University, a historically Black school, which led the parade in its debut appearance.
At one point, at Sixth Avenue between 44th and 45th Streets, activists leaped over barricades and tried to glue themselves to the pavement in front of Sinclair Oil’s Dino the dinosaur balloons. Dressed in white jumpsuits, the protesters from the Seven Circles Alliance poured fake blood on themselves and briefly stalled the parade.
At Seventh Avenue and 41st Street, just off the parade route, after it was finished, a group of protesters waving Palestinian flags flooded the streets beside the Jennie-O “Big Turkey Spectacular” float.
Beside the “Harvest in the Valley” vegetables float parked near West 42nd Street, Victor Rodriguez was overshadowed by the more than two-story-high Green Giant atop it, literally and figuratively: Mr. Rodriguez, 48, works as an Elmo in Times Square and makes money by taking pictures with tourists. With all the cartoon characters floating in the sky, the earthbound Elmo — and the Mickeys, Minnies, Marios and Luigis that are his colleagues — were overlooked.
“When the parade is over, the people will come with children,” he said. “When it’s done they’re looking for pictures.”
Philipp Strauch brought Ruby, a friend’s dog he was watching for the holiday. The dog rode in a purse. “We didn’t want her to miss it,” said Mr. Strauch, 29, an accountant from Germany. This, his first Thanksgiving parade, brought to mind a traditional German winter festival, he said. It is celebrated with floats, but also with steins of beer. Mr. Strauch said he felt his countrymen were more enthusiastic parade watchers.
“They’re also more drunk, let’s be honest,” interjected his nearby colleague and fellow German, Peter Traut, 34.
The parade — Thursday marked its 97th iteration — projected a sense of wholesome normalcy, but it couldn’t keep the outside world completely at bay. At some intersections, parade-goers in beanies shaped like turkeys intermingled with placard bearers condemning Israel.
At Columbus Circle, Serge St. Fleur, a police officer, watched over the arrival of Santa Claus. The appearance drew screams of adulation. It was his first time on parade duty, he said, as Rudolph and Mrs. Claus swung east on 59th Street. Officer St. Fleur was enjoying the tour — to a point. “The best assignment is at home,” he said. “But this is good.”
James Ashby, 78, was wedged beside a halal cart laden with children trying to see above grown-up heads on West 41st Street near Sixth Avenue. He wanted to be nowhere else — even if the view from his wheelchair was somewhat obstructed.
A lifelong New Yorker from Riverdale in the Bronx, he had never been to the parade in person. This year his two daughters, Stacey, 44, and Danielle, 40, made sure he made it. “It has been on my bucket list forever,” he said. Stacey pulled a nearby reporter aside to share that her father had stage 4 cancer.
Mr. Ashby took in the parade, his children and Leo the lizard gliding by between the buildings. He smiled wide. “I have a short life,” he said, referring to the little time he has left with his prognosis. “This is great.”
Steven Kenny contributed reporting.