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How US Gives Thanks: Food, Football, Parades

Here are some things Americans do on Thanksgiving:

Eat a large meal. For 88 percent of Americans, the meal features turkey, according to a poll by the American Turkey Federation.

Eat large amounts of bread seasoned with spices, called “stuffing.” It is often put into, or stuffed inside the turkey while it is cooking.

Eat large amounts of mashed potatoes, green beans mixed with canned, or tinned soup, and pumpkin pie.

Some will volunteer at soup kitchens. Some will offer up prayers. But for most Americans, it is all about the food.

Thanksgiving is America’s second-favorite holiday, according to a 2015 Harris Poll. It is a quiet day of rest, relaxation, family, friends and, of course, food.

Many Americans will watch football games and parades on television. A famous parade in New York City is broadcast across the nation. It features giant helium balloons that look like popular characters from movies and television shows.

Meanwhile, many people will stay indoors and watch football, even while they eat. Many Americans are sedentary, meaning they are more still than active.

But others are on the move. Many towns and running clubs have 5- or 10-kilometer races, called Turkey Trots. They run in the morning to offset the calories taken in later in the day.

Many people will travel long distances on crowded highways, airplanes and trains. The American Automobile Association predicts that 46.9 million people will travel 50 or more miles, or 80 kilometers, this Thanksgiving.

Chris Lewis is a professor who teaches American culture at the University of Colorado. He says travel “will be far from pleasant” on
America’s biggest travel holiday. In the American West, snow/or heavy rain may slow air travel to Seattle, San Francisco and Salt Lake City.

Lewis says once they arrive at their destination, holiday makers are likely to see at least one relative they dislike. The combination of difficult travel and difficult people can be very stressful, he said.

Still, Lewis says, most Americans cannot imagine a year without Thanksgiving. One Thanksgiving, he could not get home. So, Lewis invited a friend to join him at a local buffet restaurant.

Lewis says: “Even though we didn’t know the other people at the restaurant, it was nice to be together with people observing the same traditions.”

Jerry Zolten is an American culture professor at Penn State University in Pennsylvania. He said this year’s Thanksgiving has extra meaning because of terrorism across the world.

Zolten says: “Today in America, Thanksgiving has taken on a truly uplifting meaning. It has become a kind of good time spiritual event with a relaxed feel that celebrates what is best in people -- sharing, peace, harmony, friendship. Not taking for granted that there is food on the table, family, and relative prosperity.”

Alicia Shephard has lived two years in Afghanistan working with news reporters. Thanksgiving is important to her, she said. And last year she was determined to find a turkey.

She says: “It’s not a holiday they (Afghans) celebrate, obviously. Somehow we found the sorriest turkeys I’ve ever seen. But we had fun. Thanksgiving is about being together and sharing what we are grateful for.”

But some question the meaning of Thanksgiving. They see the holiday as being too commercial. The day after the holiday is called "Black Friday." Some stores open as early as 4 a.m. and offer big discounts for Christmas shopping. There is a debate about whether stores should open so early and if that is fair to employees.

Besides being commercial, some question the origin of the holiday. Most Americans learn in school that Thanksgiving started in 1621. Immigrants and settlers from Britain -- called Pilgrims -- shared a meal with Native Americans, say many history books.

But others suggest the story is hypocritical. They point to the thousands of Native Americans who were killed by the European settlers as they moved into the continent.

Many Thanksgiving traditions are hard to understand for non-Americans. Zolten pointed to a Spanish man who said he learned about Thanksgiving by watching the television show, “Friends.” All he knew was that Americans tend to stuff themselves with turkey, Zolten said.

One of the stranger parts of the holiday is the annual White House ceremony when the president pardons two turkeys from becoming dinner.

One of the 2015 turkeys being pardoned by President Obama.

One of the 2015 turkeys being pardoned by President Obama.

Last year, President Barack Obama said: "It is a little puzzling that I do this every year, but I will say that I enjoy it because with all the tough stuff that swirls around in this office it's nice once in a while just to say, 'Happy Thanksgiving.’”

British author Toni Hargis wrote about her experience with Thanksgiving for the BBC:

“You’ll probably encounter the famous green bean casserole, which is a questionable combination of green beans, canned mushroom soup and canned crispy fried onion rings. (I know).”

The average American will consume 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving, according to the Calorie Control Council. That does not include leftovers, the food that is eaten later.

The suggested daily amount for a man weighing 160 pounds is 2,300 calories, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Among Americans, 35 percent are obese, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetes affects 9.3 percent of Americans, while heart disease impacts 11.3 percent, according to the center.

Other nations celebrate Thanksgiving, too. Among them: Japan, Canada, Liberia and the Netherlands city of Leiden. The holiday is usually tied to the end of the harvest season, when people can enjoy a good meal and rest.

I'm Anne Ball.

Bruce Alpert reported on this story for VOA Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.


Words in This Story

seasoned – adj. having a lot of spices, herbs, salt, pepper, etc., added

soup kitchen – n. a place that gives food (such as soup and bread) to poor people

helium – adj. a chemical element that is a colorless gas and is often used to fill balloons

charactersn. a person who appears in a story, book, play, movie, or television show

sedentary adj. doing or involving a lot of sitting

caloriesn. a unit of heat used to indicate the amount of energy that foods will produce in the human body

crowdedadj. filled with too many people or things

destinationn. a place to which a person is going

stressful – adj. making you feel worried or anxious

buffetn. a meal for which different foods are placed on a table so that people can serve themselves

uplifting – adj. causing happy and hopeful feelings

relaxed – adj. not worried or tense

commercial adj. related to or used in the buying and selling of goods and services.

harmonyn. a pleasing combination or arrangement of different things

relative prosperityn. making a fairly decent amount of money

grateful adj. feeling or showing thanks

hypocritical adj. acting in a way that is different than the believes you claim to have

continentn. one of the great divisions of land (such as North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, or Antarctica) of the Earth

pardonsn. to officially say that someone who is guilty of a crime will be allowed to go free and will not be punished

puzzling adj. causing or likely to cause confusion : difficult to solve or understand

encounterv. to have or experience

obeseadj. very fat

crispyadj. pleasantly thin, dry, and easily broken

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