NEW YORK — Under the giant helium balloons bobbing across Manhattan during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on Thursday morning, people in the crowd called out to one another. Shouts of “Happy Thanksgiving!” echoed down Central Park West, all the way to Herald Square.

A year after the virus forced the parade into a single, spectator-free block, the words felt powerful. The baton twirlers, the stilt walkers, the marching bands, the spectators carrying toddlers wearing turkey-shaped hats at a parade back to its old self were undeniably happy.

And in a city reeling from the loss of so many New Yorkers over the past 20 months, no word encapsulated the emotion of those who were there better than “thankful.

The parade, which began in 1924 and has been canceled only rarely, such as during World War II, was back in its full 2.5-mile glory. The avenues were packed with 4,500 volunteers towing 15 giant helium balloons and tossing confetti.

There were some differences this year. The New York tradition of watching the balloons being inflated the day before on the Upper West Side was open to vaccinated people only. Some cheer squads marched with masks that matched their berets; a group of tuba players pulled their masks up and down between blows of their horns.

Every year, the best seats in the house are typically inside apartments within the stately buildings alongside Central Park; some residents and their guests ate bagel breakfasts high above the crowds Thursday as they took in the scene.

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The spectacle itself seemed to hint at the greater freedom of movement that an ebbing pandemic could allow. Several floats promoted getaways. Rapper Nelly stood atop a float advertising Kalahari Resorts and Conventions. A giant alligator — at 60 feet, the longest float in parade history, according to Macy’s — crawled down the parade route courtesy of the Louisiana Office of Tourism.

Dr. Pam Martin, visiting from Keller, Texas, said that her family had planned its annual parade pilgrimage around vaccines and booster shots.

Still, Martin said she worried that the crowds for the parade might cause a spike in cases of the coronavirus. “I’m praying that New York gets it right,” she said.