Thanksgiving once meant dinner and family and the Macy's parade. There wasn't much debate about how to celebrate America's own holiday.

But times have changed, and the residents of America's own capital have come up with some ways to mark the traditional holiday to fit their new, untraditional life styles.

Unlike many American cities in which the populace is made up of mostly traditional families, Washington is much more diverse. Recent census figures show that a growing percentage of the area's population is made up of transient professionals, elderly persons with strong ties to the area, foreign officials, students far from home and young couples with few, if any, children.

Washington, compared with 13 other major metropolitan areas, has the lowest birth rate, the highest proportion of never-married adults, the highest percentage of working women and the second-highest proportion of households made up of unmarried, unrelated adults.

The ways Washingtonians remember and celebrate the upcoming holidays are as diverse as they are. Not everyone strives for the Norman Rockwell ideal of excited children, beaming mother and father trapped in his Sunday best around a plump, roasted turkey. But then again, some could be the illustrator's models.

Before there were pre-packaged frozen foods, the Mahoneys raised turkeys for Thanksgiving in their back yard.

At the turn of the century, according to Clarence Mahoney, now 92, his mother would take days to bake pumpkin and apple pies for her 19 children. She bought sweet potatoes and cranberries from vendors who came to their home on 17th Street NW and made wine from blackberries the children picked in the wilds above U Street NW.

After Thanksgiving Day Mass, the Mahoney family would crowd around long tables set up throughout the house. The older family members would tell the children stories about when they were young, and everyone would take turns saying what they were thankful for.

Mahoney, second youngest, was always thankful he was alive and could smile.

"Those are good things to thank God for," Mahoney said last week, as he sat in the dining room of the Northeast home he shares with Emma, his wife of 64 years.

This year, the Mahoneys will have a traditional turkey dinner at their niece's house in Virginia.

Relatives say they love to hear Mahoney reminisce about how he tagged along after President Theodore Roosevelt collecting nickels and, years later, would hire a horse and buggy to take Emma riding on 16th Street NW.

And Mahoney said he will still say grace. "I'll be thankful I'm alive and smiling."

Taking a break from work to talk about Thanksgiving is difficult for 24-year-old Jeffrey Bianchi. He must excuse himself frequently to attend to business matters in the busy, fast-paced marketing department of Airphone, a new telecommunications company where he works.

"It's not a real important holiday for me," said Bianchi, who for the third year will not return to his parents' house in Weston, Mass., for Thanksgiving. "On a long weekend I'd rather sit back and relax around home than go off for a hectic few days in Massachusetts."

Bianchi, who lives with two other single men in a Capitol Hill row house, said they plan to prepare a Thanksgiving dinner of turkey, pumpkin pie and wine for a few friends.

When he was a child, Bianchi said, he enjoyed Thanksgiving holidays: the parade on TV, relatives and a big dinner.

"It's not that I'm against family; I love my family," he said. "It's just that they've settled and created their traditions and now I've settled here and want to create my own traditions with my friends. I'm surrounded by single people and I'm away from that family influence."

Bianchi said he will be thankful this holiday.

"I'll be thankful I enjoy my job and get to work with all these wonderful people," he said, raising his voice so his coworkers could hear. They responded with a roar of approval.

Jessica Marcy, 3, showed a visitor a picture she had just drawn.

"It's a turkey," she said proudly of the pencil sketch, which bore a striking resemblance to E.T.

Jessica and her sister Erica, 5, are excited about the Thanksgiving holiday, according to their mother, Kristine Marcy, who works at the Department of the Interior.

"I like the idea of a holiday that isn't geared toward gift giving," she said, eyeing her daughters. "It's good to show them there is life between Halloween and Christmas."

"It was my mother's favorite holiday," Marcy said last week in her Foxhall Village home, "because it was a family time to be together. That was important to to her and it's important to me. Thanksgiving is such an American holiday, uniquely our own. That's what I want to impart to the girls."

Marcy's childhood holiday dinners were limited to immediate family and a few friends; her father was in the Air Force and the family was usually far from relatives. Her own family's celebration this year will be even smaller.

Though she plans to cook a traditional meal of turkey, brandied sweet potatos and pumpkin pie tomorrow, Marcy said her husband, Eric, an assistant U.S. attorney, will be out of the country.

" That shows we're a typical Washington family," she said, laughing.

In his native Panama, according to Lucas Zarak, a student at American University, many families celebrate Thanksgiving by having turkey dinners, then watching American football on television.

"I don't know quite how to word this, but it is something the upper-class people do, the ones who have a lot of American influence," Zarak, 20, said last week.

"It is not a big occasion in Panama," he said, "just a dinner with family and some friends. We eat turkey and mashed potatoes, the correct food."

Though the holiday's history is relatively unknown in Panama, Zarak said, it's called Thanksgiving--there is no Spanish word.

Last year he spent the holiday with the family of a friend. "It was nice, but it's something for Americans, not me," he said.

This year, he is vacationing in the Caribbean.

Tomorrow, Joe Tom Easley, 42, president of one of the areas largest gay political clubs, plans to have a turkey dinner with two friends.

Easley's boyhood Thanksgivings in West Texas were huge, family affairs with lots of cousins, aunts and uncles and even more roasted turkey and baked ham.

"But I don't really think I'll miss the big family get-together," said Easley, a professor at the Antioch School of Law who lives alone in Cleveland Park.

"The holiday is the same, it's only a different family," he said. "This is my home now and these guys are my family. It's still a time to be with the people you care about."

Easley said he looks forward to the meal, but doesn't plan to on cook any of it. "I know very, very little about turkey," he said. "They're going to let me serve and I have a sneaking feeling I'll be stacking the dishwasher."