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Americans Prepare for Thanksgiving Holiday

President Barack Obama, right, and first lady Michelle Obama participate in a Thanksgiving service project by handing out food at the Capital Area Food Bank in Washington, Nov. 27, 2013.
Americans are marking the annual Thanksgiving holiday today, Thursday.

Thanksgiving is a time for family gatherings with sumptuous turkey feasts that include a wide array of side dishes, cobblers and pies.

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

On Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama followed decades of tradition and "pardoned" two turkeys nicknamed Popcorn and Caramel. He jokingly praised their bravery after they beat out nearly 80 turkeys to win the White House reprieve.

Now the two lucky birds will not be among those served Thursday at the Thanksgiving feasts millions of Americans will travel hundreds of kilometers to get to.

The American Automobile Association estimates that more than 43 million Americans are expected to travel 80 kilometers or more this week. And getting to that family feast can be no easy task.

Snow, sleet and rain have complicated Thanksgiving holiday plans for many Americans taking to the roads, skies and rails. Airlines have delayed thousands of flights and canceled hundreds more due to a massive storm system that now stretches along the entire east coast.

Back at the White House, the president encouraged Americans to take time during their hectic holiday to stop and help those in need.

"This is a quintessentially American holiday. During this time we give thanks to our friends and our family, for citizens who show compassion to those in need and for neighbors who help strangers they've never met," he said.

The first family is participating in a service event in the Washington area, where volunteers will serve turkey dinners to the hungry.
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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.

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