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    Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving

    Americans are marking the annual Thanksgiving holiday Thursday with meals, bargain shopping and family visits.

    The holiday is a day for giving thanks, often at family gatherings with feasts centering around turkeys with an array of traditional sides and desserts.

    The day before Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day in the United States, with the American Automobile Association saying more than 43 million people were expected to hit the roads to gather with family for the holiday. But winter storms have slowed travel this year with snowy and icy roads and thousands of flight delays.

    Americans also gather for religious services on the day, watch professional football games, and volunteer at food banks and other charities to mark the holiday.

    On the day before Thanksgiving, President Barack Obama and his family continued their annual tradition of volunteering at a Washington food bank to get food ready for needy families. He also pardoned two turkeys on Wednesday, an annual presidential tradition to spare the birds ahead of the holiday. The Obamas will mark the actual holiday at the White House.

    In New York, people starting camping out early in the freezing cold to get the best vantage points for the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which includes marching bands and performers. It was not clear Thursday morning if the parade's giant balloons would be included this year because of forecasts of strong wind gusts.

    Another Thanksgiving tradition is massive annual sales across the country to mark the beginning of the holiday shopping season. In recent years, the sales traditionally known as "Black Friday" have started earlier and earlier. This year several major retailers opened early Thanksgiving morning with special deals for the first shoppers to arrive, many of whom camped out in line for hours.

    And at U.S. military bases in Afghanistan and around the world, soldiers were treated to traditional Thanksgiving meals served by their commanders to mark the holiday.

    Tradition says the first American Thanksgiving occurred in 1621, with early North American settlers commemorating a harvest after a harsh winter. The official holiday now falls on the fourth Thursday of November.

    The nation's first president, George Washington, declared it a national holiday in 1789. The turkeys "pardoned" by President Obama on Wednesday - nicknamed Popcorn and Caramel - will now live at George Washington's nearby Mount Vernon estate.

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