It is one of America’s most popular holidays. It is a day for expressing thanks for the good things in life, especially family and friends. I’m Shirley Griffith.
And I’m Sarah Long. The story of Thanksgiving is our report today on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.
This Thursday is Thanksgiving Day. The writer O. Henry called it the one day that is purely American. Thanksgiving is not a religious holiday. But it has spiritual meaning. Some Americans attend religious services on the day before Thanksgiving, or on Thanksgiving morning. Others travel long distances to be with their families. They have a large dinner, which is the main part of the celebration.
For many Americans, Thanksgiving is the only time when all members of a family gather. The holiday is a time of family reunion.
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Thanksgiving week is generally one of the busiest travel times of the year. However, experts say this year probably will be different. On September Eleventh, thousands of people died when terrorists hijacked airplanes that struck buildings in Washington D-C and New York City. Many people now say they are worried about flying on a plane. Travel experts say almost six percent fewer people will make long trips this Thanksgiving compared with last year.
Many Americans who usually visit family and friends by plane are driving shorter distances instead this week. Some mental-health experts say the attacks have frightened people. They say people feel safer and happier close to home.
More than any other holiday, Thanksgiving is a celebration of family and home. Many people say that this year they are especially thankful for their families and friends and the good things in their lives. On Thanksgiving, people enjoy a long day of cooking, eating and talking. The traditional meal almost always includes a turkey with a bread mixture cooked inside.
Other traditional Thanksgiving foods served with turkey are sweet potatoes, cranberries and pumpkin pie. Stores are said to sell more food at Thanksgiving than at any other time of the year. And many people eat more food at Thanksgiving than at any other time of the year.
Not everyone cooks a Thanksgiving turkey, however. Some families like other meats. Or, in recent years, a number of American homes have vegetarian Thanksgiving dinners. This means no meat will be served.
Thanksgiving also is a time when Americans share what they have with people who do not have as much. All across America, thousands of religious and service organizations provide Thanksgiving meals for old people, the homeless and the poor. Many Americans give turkeys or other food to these groups. Some people spend part of the day helping to prepare and serve the meals.
Thanksgiving is celebrated every year on the fourth Thursday of November. The month of November is autumn in the United States. Autumn is the season when crops are gathered. When the first European settlers in American gathered their crops, they celebrated and gave thanks for the food. They thanked God for the success of the harvest. Listen as the Paul Hillier group sings “Thanksgiving Anthem.”
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Tradition says Pilgrim settlers from England celebrated the first Thanksgiving in Sixteen-Twenty-One. There is evidence that settlers in other parts of America held earlier Thanksgiving celebrations. But the Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving story is the most popular.
The Pilgrims were religious dissidents who fled oppression in England. They went first to the Netherlands. Then they left that country to establish a colony in North America. The Pilgrims landed in Sixteen-Twenty in what later became known as Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Their voyage across the Atlantic Ocean was difficult. Their first months in America were difficult, too. About one-hundred Pilgrims landed just as autumn was turning to winter. During the cold months that followed, about half of them died.
When spring came, the Pilgrims began to plant crops. A native American Indian named Squanto helped them. When summer ended, the Pilgrims had a good harvest of corn and barley. There was enough food to last through the winter.
The Pilgrims decided to hold a celebration to give thanks for their harvest. Writings from that time say pilgrim leader William Bradford set a date late in the year. He invited members of a nearby Indian tribe to take part.
That Thanksgiving celebration lasted three days. There were many kinds of food to eat. The meal served included wild birds such as ducks, geese and turkeys.
The Pilgrims did not celebrate Thanksgiving again until two years later. That celebration marked the end of a period of dry weather that had almost destroyed their crops. Historians believe the Pilgrims held their second Thanksgiving in July.
As the American colonies grew, many towns and settlements held Thanksgiving – or harvest – celebrations. Yet it was not until about two-hundred-fifty-years later that a national day for Thanksgiving was declared.
The creation of a national Thanksgiving holiday resulted from the efforts of one woman, Sarah Josepha Hale. In the Eighteen-Twenties, she began a campaign to officially establish the holiday. Missus Hale was a writer. She wrote stories about a national day of Thanksgiving in a publication for women. She also wrote many letters to public officials, including American presidents. She urged them to support her idea for a national Thanksgiving holiday.
Support for her idea grew slowly. Finally, in Eighteen Sixty-Three, President Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November as a national holiday of Thanksgiving. At that time, the United States was fighting a civil war. President Lincoln liked the idea of a Thanksgiving holiday that would also celebrate national unity. Later, Congress declared that the holiday would be celebrated every year on the fourth Thursday in November.
Over the years, Americans have added new traditions to their Thanksgiving celebration. For example, a number of professional and university football games are played on Thanksgiving Day. Some of the games are broadcast on national television.
Many people also like to watch Thanksgiving Day parades on television. Big stores in several cities organize these marches. For example, Macy’s store in New York City will present its seventy-fifth yearly Thanksgiving parade. Huge balloons will float high above the street. The balloons are in the shapes of children’s best-loved cartoon characters.
Religious ceremonies are an important part of Thanksgiving Day for many Americans. People join in prayers and songs of Thanksgiving. One of the most famous songs is called “Prayer of Thanksgiving.” The words and music tell of the traditional meaning of Thanksgiving. We gather with our family. We share what we have. And we give thanks for the good things of the past year. Here is the Boston Pops Orchestra and chorus performing “Prayer of Thanksgiving.”
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This program was written by Carolyn Weaver and Jerilyn Watson. It was produced by Cynthia Kirk. Our studio engineer was Mick Shaw. I’m Shirley Griffith.
And I’m Sarah Long. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.
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