NEW YORK - The annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade kicked off in New York on Thursday, putting a festive mood in the air in a city still coping with the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.The young, and the young at heart, were delighted by the sight and sound of marching bands, performers and, of course, the giant balloons. The sunny weather quickly surpassed 50 degrees. Some parade-goers had camped out to get a good spot, staying snug in sleeping bags. Others came well-prepared with folding chairs.Alan Batt and his 11-year-old twins, Kyto and Elina, took in the parade at the end of the route, well away from the crowd and seemingly too far away for a good view. But they had an advantage: Two tall stepladders they hauled over from their apartment eight blocks away - one for each twin."We're New Yorkers," the 65-year-old Batt said. "We know what we're doing."With the height advantage, "I get to see everything!" Kyto said.Airports, train stations and highways were expected to remain busy Thursday as people made their way home to reconnect with family and friends for Thanksgiving - though some reunions might be bittersweet because of the damage and displacement caused by Superstorm Sandy.For some, the once-sacrosanct harvest feast now starts the holiday shopping season - and store openings keep getting earlier. Black Friday now starts on Thanksgiving Day itself at many national stores, and some shoppers planned to race from their dinner tables to line up for bargains, delaying their second helpings until they've purchased the latest toys or electronic devices.The popular Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, attended by more than 3 million people and watched by 50 million on TV, includes such giant balloons as Elf on a Shelf and Papa Smurf, a new version of Hello Kitty, Buzz Lightyear, Sailor Mickey Mouse and the Pillsbury Doughboy. Real-life stars were to include singer Carly Rae Jepsen and Rachel Crow of "The X Factor."Greeley Square offered a perfect view of floats making the turn from Sixth Avenue onto 34th Street.Social worker Lowell Herschberger, 40, of Brooklyn, brings his sons 8-year-old Logan and 6-year-old Liam to the spot every Thanksgiving. But this year, he couldn't tear them away from a foosball table set up in the tiny park."Hey guys - there's Charlie Brown," he said, pointing at the old stand-by balloon.The boys didn't look up."I guess they're over it," the father said with a shrug.Other cities planned to have showy marching bands, cartoon character balloons and musical extravaganzas, as well. Chicago, Philadelphia and Detroit were among the big cities hosting parades.Among the scheduled highlights were a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey spectacular in Chicago; Phillies star Ryan Howard and Miss America 2012 Laura Kaeppeler in Philadelphia; and a group of 2012 U.S. Olympic champions in Detroit.The holiday came as portions of the Northeast still were reeling from Sandy's havoc, and volunteers planned to serve thousands of turkey dinners to people it left homeless or struggling.Mayor Michael Bloomberg was reflective Thursday as he praised police, firefighters, armed services personnel, sanitation workers and volunteers involved in the storm response. After stopping at the parade, Bloomberg was heading to a firehouse in the hard-hit Rockaways area of Queens.Bloomberg's office was coordinating the distribution of 26,500 meals at 30 sites in neighborhoods affected by Sandy, and other organizations also were pitching in.The Long Beach Surf Association and a charity called Surf for All were sponsoring a Thanksgiving dinner in the Long Island community of Long Beach.U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, whose New York district includes the heavily battered Rockaways neighborhoods, said he planned to stop by Thanksgiving dinners at three churches and a school."They are still giving thanks," Meeks said of his constituents. "They are thankful that they're alive and thankful to the people who are coming to help them."Some used social media to coordinate Thanksgiving volunteering. Elle Aichele, of Toms River, N.J., started a Facebook page called Hurricane Sandy Thanksgiving Adopt a Family for Dinner."Please host a family that needs something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving!" she wrote. "I have been thinking about what I can do to help and this is it!"In Philadelphia, Doreen Queenan and 18-year-old daughter Ariana came in from suburban Norristown, Pa., to see the city's Thanksgiving parade, billed as the nation's oldest.Ariana Queenan, home from her freshman year at Hofstra University in New York, was wearing a Yankees ski hat to keep warm during the chilly morning. That got the attention of a clown in the parade, she said."Somebody walked up to me and said, 'Go Phillies!'" said Ariana Queenan. She added that while her loyalties were torn, the Yankees' colors of navy and gray matched her jacket.Her mother, meanwhile, said this Thanksgiving she is grateful for Ariana's good grades."I am thankful for a daughter who appreciates how much tuition is," Doreen Queenan said with a laugh. "She's taking college seriously."___Associated Press writers Karen Matthews in New York and Kathy Matheson in Philadelphia contributed to this report.