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 Mary Tillotson. And I'm Steve Ember. 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 holiday 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.

Thanksgiving is a celebration of home and family. But not everyone can spend Thanksgiving with their family. For example, Joan and Sandy Horwitt moved to the state of Virginia from their home in the Middle West more than twenty-five years ago.

They regretted not being able to celebrate Thanksgiving with all their family members. But soon they met other people who also were separated from their families. So the Horwitts began holding a yearly Thanksgiving dinner for what they called their "extended family." This included people in their community. All the guests bring food to share for Thanksgiving dinner.

The group has grown over the years. Mr. and Mrs. Horwitt now have to add small tables to their large one to make room for all the guests. At first, many of their friends brought their babies and young children. Now some of the first guests soon will be grandparents.

Like many other Americans, Mr. and Mrs. Horwitt and their visitors enjoy a long day of cooking, eating and talking. The traditional meal usually includes a turkey with a bread mixture cooked inside. Other traditional Thanksgiving foods served with turkey are sweet potatoes, cranberries and pumpkin pie. Stores 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. And in recent years a number of American homes have vegetarian Thanksgiving dinners. This means no meat will be served.

Some people go to public eating places on Thanksgiving. A retired husband and wife in Washington, D.C do this each year. They meet friends at a local restaurant for their holiday dinner. The women say they enjoy the day especially because they do not have to cook.

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. Some people spend part of the day helping to prepare and serve the meals. Everyone expresses thanks for what they have.

Here is some Thanksgiving music by American composer William Schuman.


Thanksgiving is celebrated every year on the fourth Thursday of November. The month of November is autumn in the United States, the season for harvesting crops. When the first European settlers in America gathered their crops, they celebrated and gave thanks for the food.

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 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. Here are the Paul Hillier singers with "Thanksgiving Anthem."

The creation of a national Thanksgiving holiday resulted from the efforts of a writer named Sarah Josepha Hale. In the Eighteen-Twenties, she began a campaign to officially establish the 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. 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.

But for many Americans, Thanksgiving is a time for memories. Former Special English writer and broadcaster Richard Thorman liked to remember the Thanksgivings when he was a young child. His family always ate a large dinner in the afternoon. Then the men would rest. Later, the family would eat again. Here is one young boy's Thanksgiving memory:

"In the early evening, when the outside light had begun to fade, the men would start to reappear. Then the food began to reappear. And everyone sat at the table and ate again as if no food had been served before. I never knew how the Thanksgiving celebration ended. I usually was asleep and had to be carried to the car for the long ride home."

On Thanksgiving, Americans gather with family and friends. 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."

This program was written by Jerilyn Watson. It was produced by Cynthia Kirk. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Mary Tillotson. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.