Thanksgiving is the most American of holidays, its origins deeply rooted in the nation's past, its celebration an occasion for reflection regardless of one's religious beliefs.

In the Washington area, the day is marked in many different ways, reflecting the wide range of backgrounds of those who make this their home.

A group of vignettes offers a sample of how people in the Washington area are spending Thanksgiving. Important to them -- regardless of what they are doing -- is that they celebrate the day with other people. Not unlike the Pilgrims of 1621, they give thanks they are together with family and friends who have survived the year.

For Washington's foreign diplomats, Thanksgiving can be the most puzzling of American holidays. Certainly the Anglo-Portuguese de Sousa family found it so when they arrived in Washington from London six years ago.

"When we first heard about this we thought Thanksgiving was just a rehearsal for Christmas," says Luis de Sousa, a counselor at the Embassy of Portugal.

Neither Lisbon nor London devote a holiday to turkey and pumpkin pie, but like many veteran sojourners, the de Sousas adapt with the enthusiasm of amateur anthropologists. "If you're really going to learn the society you've got to have total cultural immersion," says de Sousa. "You've got to learn the rituals."

And it is Thanksgiving, of all the American rituals, that has captured their hearts. "We think it's the most American of holidays, and particularly pleasant," says de Sousa. "It has to do with totally American values, with self reliance."

They find Thanksgiving less commercial than an American Christmas. "It is a day for reflection, a day to stay at home with friends and family. That's rare," says de Sousa.

"Even the stores are closed," agrees his son, Joao, a drama student at the University of Maryland. "For my friends at school, it's just a vacation, but they all clear out and go home, I notice."

Unlike their Anglo-Portuguese Christmas, the de Sousa Thanksgiving is reserved for American dishes with a gourmet twist. "We'll do a sweet potato souffle, I think," says Sally-Ann de Sousa, an Englishwoman employed by her embassy. There will be marinated beef, maybe some rice, perhaps an American wine, a fire in the fireplace.

But no turkey. The children don't like it; they say it's bland. In Mozambique, where Luis de Sousa grew up, some people truss the turkey's feet and feed it rich chestnuts for a month, then douse the bird with port just before slaughter. "A very good way to fix a turkey," says Luis.

The de Sousas celebrated the actual anniversary of their own arrival on these shores a few days ago -- at a Chinese restaurant.