For 89 years, Thanksgiving morning has meant one thing: Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.

Rain or shine, it’s a tradition as holy as turkey, cranberry sauce, football and your drunk uncle’s political rants. Because whether you’re a 10-year-old kid or a senior home from college, watching the balloons in person on New York City’s Sixth Avenue or streaming it from NBC on a favorite sofa at home, you’re guaranteed to get a bit emotional when Santa Claus floats by for the grand finale.

And when Mariah Carey sings “All I Want for Christmas Is You” from atop a stack of Christmas presents, wearing a cherry-red ball gown and a fur shawl, you might just burst out in tears.

Needless to say, the parade is a Thanksgiving tradition that millions of Americans have adopted as their own. Though the famed march to Macy’s flagship store in New York City has shortened, condensed to just two and a half miles from the five-mile route of previous years, the parade continues to blow up bigger every year — no pun intended — and 2015 was no exception.

Hosted by Matt Lauer, Savannah Guthrie and Al Roker of NBC’s “Today” show, this year’s march brought the usual favorites: the long-legged New York City Rockettes, Snoopy and Woodstock, 600 plus-person dance crews, marching bands and that group of old geezers with bagpipes, all snaking through a crowd of three million spectators.

Different from previous years, however, was the not-so-subtle hint of heavy surveillance, a precaution taken in response to the recent bombings in Paris. The New York Times reported that close to 2,500 police officers lined the streets, both in uniform and undercover, watching for any suspicious activity amongst the crowd. Thankfully, like the unseasonably warm weather, the parade proceeded as perfectly as everyone hoped. The only glitch, according to the Times, was a 41-year-old man who violated city code by flying a drone near Central Park.    

Drone aside, the air was filled with whimsy. Along with Snoopy, the oldest recurring balloon on display (appearing 38 times since being introduced in 1968), familiar friendly giants included Hello Kitty (introduced in 1976), Ronald McDonald (1987), Pokemon’s Pikachu (2001), Spongebob Squarepants (2004), “Adventure Time” ’s Finn and Jake (2013) and the Red Power Ranger (2014). New to the crew this year was Scrat, the lovable and frantic squirrel from “Ice Age,” who floated through the air clutching — what else? — his precious acorn. Red from the “Angry Birds” video game also flew for the first time, in anticipation of “The Angry Birds Movie” coming to theaters in May.

Hovering below the balloons was the real action: the musical performances and dance acts. For as much as I love a giant inflatable Spongebob, watching Panic! At the Disco (“I Write Sins Not Tragedies”) on a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles float is a bit more exciting.

In the past, Macy’s has attracted artists from across the country and across generations — from Hilary Duff (2003) and the Kidz Bop Kids (2012), to the Beach Boys (2005) and KISS (2014). Though almost everyone lip syncs, wearing microphones for show — parade acoustics are pretty terrible — the singing’s not the focal point.

Really, we’re all watching to see what float the stars arrive on and what holiday-chic outfit they’re sporting.

This year, Mariah Carey, the queen of Christmas herself, won best-dressed and best performance hands down. (I’m biased, I know, but it’s officially the holiday season after all!) Other strong showings were Jordin Sparks, who sang “Right Here Right Now” dressed in an on-point cranberry pea coat; Shawn Mendes, who performed “Stitches” while adorably steering a ship of kiddy pirates; and the “610 Stompers,” posing in short shorts and sweat bands like an army of “Juno”-era Michael Ceras, who killed a hilariously impressive step routine. Along with Panic! at the Disco, the Plain White T’s also appeared, giving us all some nostalgia for the 2000s.

But most deserving of praise was the troupe of spirited high school cheerleaders, dancers and marching band members who never stopped smiling, though they’d probably been locked in tight formation since 6 a.m. Props for doing your thing while the rest of us were in college-induced comas.   

For me, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade isn’t so much entertainment as it is therapy, a nostalgic relief from the stress of the semester and a tradition that the whole family — drunk uncle included — can agree on. And that’s something to be thankful for.  

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