High winds overnight had threatened to ground the 16 giant balloons for the first time in more than 40 years.
But the procession went ahead after the strong winds died down by morning and authorities ordered balloon handlers to fly their inflated characters at a lower altitude along the 2.5-mile-long route.
Parade officials had good reason for being cautious.
In 1997, a woman spent more than three weeks in a coma after the Cat in the Hat balloon -- tossed by heavy winds -- struck a pole that hit her. In 2005, two other people were hurt in a similar incident involving the M&Ms balloon.
Wind gauges lined the route to make sure it wasn't too breezy, according to New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.
"We have a sergeant assigned to each of the balloons," Kelly said. "They can be lowered all the way to the ground."
Elsewhere in the country, Thanksgiving traditions were largely unaffected by the weather.
Jim Leyland, former manager of the Detroit Tigers, served as grand marshal of that city's Thanksgiving Day parade, which is billed as the nation's second largest, behind New York's. Revelers braved snow showers and slick roads.
In Washington on Wednesday, President Barack Obama pardoned two 38-pound turkeys named Popcorn and Caramel, fulfilling the annual presidential tradition.
In a holiday edition of his weekend radio and Internet address, Obama gave thanks for the country's founders, the generations who followed, and members of the military, and their families, for the sacrifices they make.
He expressed gratitude for the freedoms service members defend, including speech, religion and the right to choose America's leaders. And he had kind words for those who work to make America a more compassionate place.