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Thanksgiving Day is the fourth Thursday of November each year.

Americans attach great importance to this holiday. It was started when the Pilgrims thanked the Native Americans for teaching them how to hunt, fish and grow corn and pumpkins, which allowed them to survive in the New World. The earliest Thanksgiving Day had no fixed date. 

The president or the governor of each state had to make an annual decision for when to celebrate it. After the United States achieved independence, the first president, George Washington, announced November 26 as Thanksgiving Day in 1789. 

However, other states have their own dates. For example, New Hampshire whose Thanksgiving is on November 14, and Massachusetts on November 28. Finally, in 1863, President Lincoln announced the last Thursday of November as the official Thanksgiving Day.

During Thanksgiving, people from all over the U.S. are busy. Christians follow the custom of going to church for Thanksgiving prayers, urban towns everywhere would be organizing costume parades, theater performances, or sports competitions.  

Relatives will gather in a family reunion and enjoy a Thanksgiving meal. The most well-known celebration in the United States is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which started in 1924. Children dress up as Native Americans with painted faces and ornate masks, marching down the street and singing songs. 

Family members will also gather for a festive holiday celebration, sit together, eat delicious turkey, and say, “Thank you!” to the family. Schools will let students be creative while letting them draw a Thanksgiving-related picture. Most students would draw a turkey.

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The hospitable Americans could not forget to invite friends, bachelors or distant relatives to spend the holidays with them. From the 18th century, the people of the United States began a custom to help the poor by giving them baskets of food. 

At that time, a group of young women chose a special day to do various acts of kindness, and selected Thanksgiving Day as it is the most appropriate. So every Thanksgiving, they loaded a basket full of food and presented it to a person in need. 

This matter was spread far and wide, and soon there were many people who knew about it. No matter who they met, they would say, “Thank you!”

Thanksgiving shopping and Black Friday

After Thanksgiving dinner you can’t rest, because “shopping time” is about to begin. U.S. stores begin announcing their lowest prices a few days before Thanksgiving Day, and some stores are even open until midnight.

Many people go to their favorite shops a few days early to explore and jot down the things they want to buy. After Thanksgiving dinner, they stand in line, ready to rush into the store the moment the door opens, to buy limited edition “early-bird specials.”  Americans call this day: “Black Friday.”

Freeing Turkeys

The annual presidential release of the turkey began in 1947 with President Truman. In fact, the first occurrence can be traced back to the United States Civil War period, when Lincoln was president. One day in 1863, Lincoln’s son Ted broke into a cabinet meeting, pleading for the life of a turkey named Jack, who was sent to the White House to become part of their Thanksgiving dinner.

On November 22, 2006, President Bush released a turkey at the White House Rose Garden on Thanksgiving Day. The turkey was named “Flying Bird.”

U.S. President Barack Obama, on November 25, 2009, freed a thanksgiving turkey, naming the turkey “Courage.” This is also his first time releasing a turkey since he took office. Obama also expressed his gratitude for the heroic fighters who protected the security of the American people. Accompanied by his daughters Sasha and Maria, Obama freed the turkey that would have been used in a dish. 

Obama said, “I had intended to eat the turkey, but because of Sasha and Maria’s intervention, I forgive Courage.” The turkey was sent to Disneyland.

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Translation: Ireen Chau

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