Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Barber Cline.
And I'm Steve Ember. Our subject this week is what the writer O. Henry called
the one day that is purely American -- Thanksgiving.
This Thursday is Thanksgiving Day. This is the 143rd
official observance of the holiday. But the tradition is much older.
Thanksgiving is an autumn harvest festival like those found in many cultures.
Today the holiday is a time of family
reunions , parades and watching football games on television.
And, oh yes, food. For millions of Americans, Thanksgiving is a day spent
cooking, eating and talking.
Thanksgiving is what the social scientists call a civil holiday. It is not
religious but it does have spiritual meaning. For some families, Thanksgiving
may be the only time of year when everyone gets together. The government says
the Sunday after Thanksgiving is the busiest day of the year for long-distance
travel as people return from gatherings.
Paul Hillier leads the Theatre of Voices in a traditional Shaker song, "Give
Good Gifts to One Another." The recording is from the album "Home to
Thanksgiving -- Songs of Thanks and Praise."
Thanksgiving is also when thoughts start to turn to other kinds of gifts. The
Friday after Thanksgiving is the traditional start of the shopping season for
Christmas and the other winter holidays.
And speaking of traditions, a popular Thanksgiving
tradition is the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. Employees of
the huge Macy's department store on Herald Square organized the first parade in
1924. Many of them wanted to hold a big parade like the ones in Old World
Europe. So they dressed in costumes and borrowed some animals from the zoo. They
also carried small balloons that floated just overhead.
A few years later came big balloons, the kind that the parade is famous for.
But they burst. The parade planners soon learned better ways to control the
In nineteen thirty-four, a big Mickey Mouse balloon made of rubber appeared
in the parade for the first time. Mickey Mouse remains a popular character in
But for three years during World War Two, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
had to be cancelled. The military needed rubber for the war effort.
Two and one-half million people are expected on the streets of Manhattan this
Thursday to watch the parade. Millions more will see it on television. And, as
always, there will be lots of things to see, including eight hundred performing
But all eyes will be on the huge balloons that will rise almost fifteen
meters above the streets. Many of the balloons are based on popular cartoon and
game characters. Plans call for the balloons to be filled with helium gas on
Workers control the balloons with ropes, but that can be difficult. They have
to make sure that winds do not blow the balloons into buildings or
parade-watchers. But accidents can happen. There have been two in recent years.
Last year, ropes from a big balloon caught on a streetlight. Two sisters were
injured when pieces of the streetlight fell on them as they watched the parade.
The accident was similar to what happened in 1997. The victim was a woman on
the street. She was injured so badly that she was in a coma for almost a month.
But she survived.
And just last month that same woman, Kathleen Caronna, had something else to
be thankful for. She was not home when a small plane hit the Manhattan building
where she lived. Her apartment was heavily damaged, and the crash killed both
people on the plane.
After the balloon incident last year, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg
appointed a committee to improve the safety of the parade. This year, more steps
will be taken to measure the wind and to report the information to the balloon
The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is marking its 80th anniversary this
year. The parade traditionally includes invited marching bands. But now, in
addition, the parade will have its own marching band.
Two hundred musicians and dancers will take part in what is called the Macy's
Great American Marching Band. The young musicians will represent all fifty
states and the District of Columbia.
Now we come to the part of the holiday that Thanksgiving memories are often
made of -- the big Thanksgiving Day meal. Some families serve ham. Others serve
a meatless dinner. But the traditional main dish is turkey. Most people cook the
bird in an oven; some prepare the turkey other ways, like fried in oil.
Turkey on Thanksgiving is usually served with a bread mixture inside. Some
Americans call it stuffing; others call it dressing. Popular side dishes on
Thanksgiving include cranberries, sweet potatoes and green beans. Then for a
rich, sweet dessert there is often pumpkin pie or pecan pie.
Many Thanksgiving tables also are heavy with other dishes, often brought by
guests. And if the guests eat all that is served, they too will feel heavy.
Some people like fruit soup, green salads and baked potatoes with their
turkey. Others like baked squash, creamed onions, creamed spinach and corn
pudding. Many people eat more at Thanksgiving than any other time of the year.
For people who do not have much food, or a home to go to at Thanksgiving,
charity groups play an important part. To help the needy, religious and service
organizations across the country serve special Thanksgiving meals.
Tradition says the Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving in 1621. The
Pilgrims were religious dissidents who fled oppression in England. First they
went to the Netherlands, then left to establish a colony in North America. They
ended up at what later became known as Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Their trip across the Atlantic Ocean and their first months on land were
difficult. About one hundred Pilgrims arrived just as autumn was turning to
winter. About half of them died during the cold months that followed.
As the story goes, when spring came the Pilgrims planted crops with the help
of an American Indian named Squanto. By the end of summer there was a good
harvest of corn and barley. There was enough food to last through the winter.
The Pilgrims held a celebration of thanks for their harvest. A nearby Indian
tribe, the Wampanoags, took part and the feast lasted three days.
But modern Indians have noted that the friendship did not last for long.
Other English settlers who arrived later did not need help from the Indians the
way the Pilgrims did. The Indians and the settlers were at war within a few
years. Many of the Wampanoag Indians died in battle or from diseases that
arrived with the settlers.
Over the years, as the American colonies grew, other communities held
thanksgiving or harvest celebrations. Later, different states celebrated
Thanksgiving on different days.
But a 19th century writer and editor, Sarah Hale, believed that all Americans
should give thanks on the same day. For years she campaigned for a national
holiday. Her wish came true in October of 1863 with a declaration from
President Abraham Lincoln. He invited Americans to observe the last Thursday of
November as a day of thanksgiving and praise to God.
At the time, it might not have seemed that Americans had much to be thankful
for. It was in the middle of the Civil War. The great Battle of Gettysburg had
just taken place that summer in Pennsylvania. Yet the war that divided the
nation also, in the end, united it.
And, as the spirit of tradition guides millions of people to holiday
gatherings this week, Thanksgiving remains that most American of days.
Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Caty Weaver. I'm
And I'm Barber Cline. To learn more about American life, and to download MP3
files and transcripts of our programs, go to voaspecialenglish.com. And join us
again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.
family reunion : 家庭聚会