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.
Most days of the year, the 24 Benedictine monks at St. Anselm's Abbey in Northeast Washington rise at 5 a.m., spend the day teaching at the abbey school, working in their neighborhood and giving thanks to God. Today is different.
"We get a reprieve," says Brother Louis. "We don't have to get up until 6." Morning mass will be moved back one hour to 8:30, too, and to give the abbey cook a rest, one of the abbots will roast the turkey. "Turkey and all the trimmings, as they say," says Father Abbot James Wiseman. "Some of the customs of the nation do make their way into the abbey on holidays."
Not all monastic rules can be broken, however, so the turkey will be eaten in the refectory, in silence, as is traditional. As usual, two monks will don white aprons and serve the meal, while a third reads aloud from the book the abbey has been listening to for weeks -- a modern biography of the 18th century English writer Samuel Johnson. Conversation will commence with the pumpkin pie and coffee. "Even at midday meals, there should be an atmosphere of recollected prayerfulness," says Father Abbot.
Many of the psalms that resound in the abbey chapel throughout the year are songs of thanks, so "every day is like Thanksgiving here," according to the abbot. But today there will be special prayers: "It happened to our fathers, who came to this land as if out of the desert, into a place of promise and hope."
When a man joins the Benedictine order, the abbey becomes his home, the abbots his family. So just one of the monks will travel from the monastery's 41 acres to visit his "blood relatives," as they are called.
For the rest, the afternoon will be free, a rare break in the schoolday routine. Some will visit the National Arboretum, and "museum visits are popular," says Father Abbot. A few will watch football on the abbey's one television set. Vespers are at 6 p.m. Monastic prayer begins at 7:40.
By 9:30, the abbey will be dark.