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The tale of the first Thanksgiving in America feels very much like lore, the hallowed sense similar to stories of George Washington or Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the New World. Children in the US learn about the holiday as early as preschool. Teachers tell of the pilgrims' arrival in 1620, of how they survived due to the generosity of a local Native American tribe, and of how the two different peoples sat down and shared the new harvest meal in friendship the following year. Seasonal cartoons, programs, and school plays add to this legend-like feeling.

Yet much of the story contains a fair bit of fiction, and the story was actually created and promoted at the end of the 19th century. With numerous immigrants arriving from all over the world, the tale helped provide a common national identity. There really were pilgrims, though, who had fled religious persecution back in England. And they almost certainly wouldn't have made it through the harsh winter without the help of the Wampanoag, a local tribe--nearly 50% of the settlers died, weakened after a long ocean voyage.

The Wampanoag taught the pilgrims about the local fauna, as well as how to plant and raise their main staple, corn. In the autumn, nearly a year after their arrival, the pilgrims invited the chief and his tribe to celebrate the harvest. The first Thanksgiving, then, was simply an autumn harvest festival, which many cultures have celebrated throughout history. Contrary to popular stories, the festival lasted nearly a week instead of one day. It also consisted of many meals, not just one.

Continuing through the 1600s and 1700s, village leaders called a day of thanks from time to time, and not always in the autumn. The pilgrims, for example gave thanks after particularly auspicious events, and celebrated with prayers instead of feasts. George Washington proclaimed a thanksgiving feast in December 1777, after defeating the British at Saratoga during the Revolutionary War. Since 1941, the holiday always falls on the fourth Thursday of November.

A typical Thanksgiving nowadays consists of family and friends gathered together for dinner. Turkey is the main dish, and the holiday has picked up the name "Turkey Day" as a result. Other food at the table includes: mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. Notice that these traditional holiday dishes are all from New World crops.

TV rules the home before and after dinner. In the morning, all the main stations broadcast Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. A three-hour parade with floats, giant balloons of cartoon characters, and marching bands wind their way through New York City. The parade closes with Santa Clause, which indicates the start of the Christmas season.

After dinner, families glue themselves to the TV for football. Several games are played each year, and the sport shares an equal part of the holiday as turkey and cranberry sauce. Friday is almost always a day off, so friends and family visit with one another until quite late. Plans are made, as are shopping lists, because the Christmas season begins the day after.


Step 1: You will listen to an article about Thanksgiving. The article is about 5 minutes long. Listen only, and don't worry about understanding everything.
Step 2: Read and understand the questions, then listen again. As you are listening, try to answer the questions in your head. Don't write the answers yet. Next, listen again and write the answers this time. Check your answers with a partner.
Step 3: Read the article. Check in your dictionary any unknown words. Now listen again. Can you understand more?
Step 4: Listen! Listen! Listen! Listen to the article on the train or in your free time. Each time you listen, you will slowly improve!

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