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    Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving

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

    The holiday is a time for giving thanks, often at family gatherings with feasts that center on turkeys with an array of traditional side dishes and desserts.

    Americans across the nation also gather for religious services, watch professional football games, and volunteer at food banks and other charities to mark the occasion.

    In New York, Snoopy and the rest of the iconic, giant balloons soared during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Police gave the all clear Thursday morning, calming fears that heavy wind forecasts would ground the helium-filled entertainment.

    In Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama gave thanks for the men and women serving in the military.



    "We give thanks for the freedoms they defend - the freedom to think what we want and say what we think, to worship according to our own beliefs, to choose our leaders and, yes, criticize them without punishment. People around the world are fighting and even dying for their chance at these freedoms. We stand with them in that struggle, and we give thanks for being free."

    On the day before Thanksgiving, President Obama and his family continued an annual tradition of volunteering at a Washington food bank to prepare food for needy families. He also pardoned two turkeys, named Popcorn and Caramel, in an annual presidential tradition to spare the birds ahead of the holiday.



    Massive annual sales across the country mark the beginning of the holiday shopping season. In recent years, the sales at retail stores have started earlier and earlier. This year, several major retailers opened early Thanksgiving Day with special deals for the first shoppers, 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, when early North American settlers gave thanks for their harvest after a harsh winter.

    More than a century later, the nation's first president, George Washington, issued a Thanksgiving proclamation in 1789.

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