Americans are celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday with parades, football and turkey dinners. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, U.S. President George Bush is spending the holiday at the presidential retreat in the mountains outside the nation's capital.

Marching bands on New York City's Central Park West kicked off the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.

Thousands of people watched along the rainy parade route and millions more on television where many will spend the day watching American football.

Thanksgiving is a holiday that legend says began in 1621 when British colonists shared a feast with Native Americans in what is now the northeast state of Massachusetts.

It has since become a time for families to gather and remember their blessings.

President Bush is spending the day at Camp David for a meal of turkey, cornbread dressing, green beans, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie.

In Thanksgiving remarks at the White House on Wednesday he said Americans have always been a grateful people.

"On Thanksgiving, and every day of the year, Americans live-out a spirit of compassion and care, and I thank you for that," Mr. Bush said. "It is a spirit that moves men and women to be mentors to the young, to be scout leaders, to be helpers of the elderly, to be comforters of the lonely and those who are left out."

Mr. Bush said Americans are grateful for a harvest big enough to feed the nation and much of the world. He said Americans are grateful for their freedoms and the men and women who protect them.

"We love our country. And the greatest example of that devotion is the citizen who steps forward to defend our nation from harm," he said. "The members of our military have set aside their own comfort and convenience and safety to protect the rest of us. Their courage keeps us free, their sacrifice makes us grateful, and their character makes us proud."

From Camp David, the president telephoned troops serving abroad, including forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The president and Mrs. Bush return to Washington Saturday before leaving for Estonia and Latvia, where Mr. Bush will take part in a summit of the NATO alliance.

He will then travel to Jordan for a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.