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Thanksgiving or Thanksgiving Day, presently celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November, has been an annual tradition in the United Statesmarker since 1863. Thanksgiving was historically a religious observation to give thanks to God, but was established as a secular federal holiday in 1941.

The first Thanksgiving was celebrated to give thanks to God for helping the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony survive the brutal winter. The first Thanksgiving feast lasted three days providing enough food for 53 pilgrims and 90 Native Americans. The feast consisted of fowl, venison, fish, lobster, clams, berries, fruit, pumpkin, and squash. William Bradford's note that, "besides waterfowl, there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many," probably gave rise to the American tradition of turkey at Thanksgiving.

History

1619 Thanksgiving, the Virginia colony

On December 4, 1619, 38 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Hundred, which comprised about 8,000 acres (32 km²) on the north bank of the James River, near Herring Creek, in an area then known as Charles Cittie, about upstream from Jamestown, where the first permanent settlement of the Colony of Virginia had been established on May 14, 1607.

The group's charter required that the day of arrival be observed yearly as a "day of thanksgiving" to God. On that first day, Captain John Woodleaf held the service of thanksgiving. As quoted from the section of the Charter of Berkeley Hundred specifying the thanksgiving service: "We ordaine that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually keept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God."

During the Indian Massacre of 1622, nine of the settlers at Berkeley Hundreds were killed, as well as about a third of the entire population of the Virginia Colony. The Berkeley Hundred site and other outlying locations were abandoned as the colonists withdrew to Jamestown and other more secure points.

After several years, the site became Berkeley Plantationmarker, and was long the traditional home of the Harrison family, one of the First Families of Virginia. In 1634, it became part of the first eight shires of Virginia, as Charles City Countymarker, one of the oldest in the United Statesmarker, and is located along Virginia State Route 5, which runs parallel to the river's northern borders past sites of many of the James River Plantations between the colonial capital city of Williamsburgmarker (now the site of Colonial Williamsburgmarker) and the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginiamarker at Richmondmarker.

1621 Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims at Plymouth

Painting of "The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth" By Jennie A.
Brownscombe.
(1914)


The modern Thanksgiving holiday traces its origins from a 1621 celebration at the Plymouth Plantation, where the Plymouth settlers held a harvest feast after a successful growing season. It is this iconic event that is generally referred to as the "First Thanksgiving."

Squanto, a Patuxet Native American who resided with the Wampanoag tribe, taught the Pilgrims how to catch eel and grow corn and served as an interpreter for them (Squanto had learned English while enslaved in Europe and during travels in England). The Pilgrims set apart a day to celebrate at Plymouth immediately after their first harvest, in 1621. At the time, this was not regarded as a Thanksgiving observance; harvest festivals existed in English and Wampanoag tradition alike. Several colonists gave personal accounts of the 1621 feast in Plymouthmarker, Massachusettsmarker. The Pilgrims, most of whom were Separatists, are not to be confused with Puritans who established their own Massachusetts Bay Colony nearby (current day Bostonmarker) in 1628 and had very different religious beliefs.

William Bradford, in Of Plymouth Plantation:
Thus they found the Lord to be with them in all their ways, and to bless their outgoings and incomings, for which let His holy name have the praise forever, to all posterity.
They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty.
For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion.
All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees).
And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides, they had about a peck a meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to the proportion.
Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports.


Edward Winslow, in Mourt's Relation:
Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labor.
They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week.
At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which we brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others.
And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.


The Pilgrims held an even greater Thanksgiving celebration in 1623, after a switch from communal farming to privatized farming and a refreshing rain resulted in a larger harvest. Referring to the 1623 harvest after a nearly catastrophic drought, Bradford wrote:

Irregular Thanksgivings continued after favorable events and days of fasting after unfavorable ones. In the Plymouth tradition, a thanksgiving day was a church observance, rather than a feast day. Gradually, an annual Thanksgiving after the harvest developed in the mid-17th century. This did not occur on any set day or necessarily on the same day in different colonies in America.

Other colonies

The Massachusetts Bay Colony (consisting mainly of Puritan Christians) celebrated Thanksgiving for the first time in 1630, and frequently thereafter until about 1680, when it became an annual festival in that colony; and Connecticut as early as 1639 and annually after 1647, except in 1675. The Dutch in New Netherland appointed a day for giving thanks in 1644 and occasionally thereafter.

Charlestown, Massachusettsmarker held the first recorded Thanksgiving observance June 29, 1671 by proclamation of the town's governing council.

Later in the 1700s individual colonies would periodically designate a day of thanksgiving in honor of a military victory, an adoption of a state constitution or an exceptionally bountiful crop. Such a Thanksgiving Day celebration was held in December 1777 by the colonies nationwide, commemorating the surrender of British General Burgoyne at Saratoga.

During the 18th century individual colonies commonly observed days of thanksgiving throughout each year. We might not recognize a traditional Thanksgiving Day from that period, as it was not a day marked by plentiful food and drink as is today's custom, but rather a day set aside for prayer and fasting.

The Revolutionary War to nationhood

During the American Revolutionary War the Continental Congress appointed one or more thanksgiving days each year, each time recommending to the executives of the various states the observance of these days in their states.The First National Proclamation of Thanksgiving was given by the Continental Congress in 1777:

FOR AS MUCH as it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending Providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with Gratitude their Obligation to him for Benefits received, and to implore such farther Blessings as they stand in Need of: And it having pleased him in his abundant Mercy, not only to continue to us the innumerable Bounties of his common Providence; but also to smile upon us in the Prosecution of a just and necessary War, for the Defense and Establishment of our unalienable Rights and Liberties; particularly in that he hath been pleased, in so great a Measure, to prosper the Means used for the Support of our Troops, and to crown our Arms with most signal success:


It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive Powers of these UNITED STATES to set apart THURSDAY, the eighteenth Day of December next, for SOLEMN THANKSGIVING and PRAISE: That at one Time and with one Voice, the good People may express the grateful Feelings of their Hearts, and consecrate themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor; and that, together with their sincere Acknowledgments and Offerings, they may join the penitent Confession of their manifold Sins, whereby they had forfeited every Favor; and their humble and earnest Supplication that it may please GOD through the Merits of JESUS CHRIST, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of Remembrance; That it may please him graciously to afford his Blessing on the Governments of these States respectively, and prosper the public Council of the whole: To inspire our Commanders, both by Land and Sea, and all under them, with that Wisdom and Fortitude which may render them fit Instruments, under the Providence of Almighty GOD, to secure for these United States, the greatest of all human Blessings, INDEPENDENCE and PEACE: That it may please him, to prosper the Trade and Manufactures of the People, and the Labor of the Husbandman, that our Land may yield its Increase: To take Schools and Seminaries of Education, so necessary for cultivating the Principles of true Liberty, Virtue and Piety, under his nurturing Hand; and to prosper the Means of Religion, for the promotion and enlargement of that Kingdom, which consisteth "in Righteousness, Peace and Joy in the Holy Ghost.



And it is further recommended, That servile Labor, and such Recreation, as, though at other Times innocent, may be unbecoming the Purpose of this Appointment, be omitted on so solemn an Occasion.

George Washington, leader of the revolutionary forces in the American Revolutionary War, proclaimed a Thanksgiving in December 1777 as a victory celebration honoring the defeat of the British at Saratogamarker.

Thanksgiving proclamations in the first thirty years of nationhood

As President, on October 3, 1789, George Washington made the following proclamation and created the first Thanksgiving Day designated by the national government of the United States of America:

George Washington again proclaimed a Thanksgiving in 1795.

President John Adams declared Thanksgivings in 1798 and 1799. No Thanksgiving proclamations were issued by Thomas Jefferson but James Madison renewed the tradition in 1814, in response to resolutions of Congress, at the close of the War of 1812. Madison also declared the holiday twice in 1815; however, none of these were celebrated in autumn. In 1816, Governor Plamer of New Hampshire appointed Thursday, November 14 to be observed as a day of Public Thanksgiving and Governor Brooks of Massachusetts appointed Thursday, November 28 to be "observed throughout that State as a day of Thanksgiving."

A thanksgiving day was annually appointed by the governor of New Yorkmarker from 1817. In some of the Southern states there was opposition to the observance of such a day on the ground that it was a relic of Puritanic bigotry, but by 1858 proclamations appointing a day of thanksgiving were issued by the governors of 25 states and two territories.

Lincoln and the Civil War

Sketch of Thanksgiving in Civil War camp in 1861.
Lithograph, Home To Thanksgiving 1867


In the middle of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln, prompted by a series of editorials written by Sarah Josepha Hale, proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day, to be celebrated on the final Thursday in November 1863:

Since 1863, Thanksgiving has been observed annually in the United States.

1939 to 1941

Abraham Lincoln's successors as president followed his example of annually declaring the final Thursday in November to be Thanksgiving. But in 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt broke with this tradition. November had five Thursdays that year, and Roosevelt declared the fourth Thursday as Thanksgiving rather than the fifth one. In 1940 and 1941, years in which November had four Thursdays, he declared the third one as Thanksgiving. Although many popular histories state otherwise, he made clear that his plan was to establish it on the next-to-last Thursday in the month instead of the last one. With the country still in the midst of The Great Depression, Roosevelt thought an earlier Thanksgiving would give merchants a longer period to sell goods before Christmas. Increasing profits and spending during this period, Roosevelt hoped, would help bring the country out of the Depression. At the time, advertising goods for Christmas before Thanksgiving was considered inappropriate. Fred Lazarus, Jr., founder of the Federated Department Stores (later Macy's), is credited with convincing Roosevelt to push Thanksgiving back a week to expand the shopping season.

However, many localities had made a tradition of celebrating on the last Thursday, and since a presidential declaration of Thanksgiving Day was not legally binding, it was widely disregarded. Twenty-three states went along with Roosevelt's recommendation, 22 did not, and some, like Texasmarker, could not decide and took both weeks as government holidays. Critics termed Roosevelt's dating of the holiday as "Franksgiving".

1942 to present

On October 6, 1941, both houses of the U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution fixing the traditional last-Thursday date for the holiday beginning in 1942. However, in December of that year the Senate passed an amendment to the resolution that split the difference by requiring that Thanksgiving be observed annually on the fourth Thursday of November, which was sometimes the last Thursday and sometimes (less frequently) the next to last. On December 26, 1941 President Roosevelt signed this bill, for the first time making the date of Thanksgiving a matter of federal law. See 55 Stat. 862 (1941).

President Truman receiving a Thanksgiving turkey from members of the Poultry and Egg National Board and other representatives of the turkey industry, outside the White House


Since 1947, or possibly earlier, the National Turkey Federation has presented the President of the United States with one live turkey and two dressed turkeys, in a ceremony known as the National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation. The live turkey is pardoned and lives out the rest of its days on a peaceful farm. While it is commonly held that this pardoning tradition began with Harry Truman in 1947, the Truman Library has been unable to find any evidence for this. The earliest on record is with George H. W. Bush in 1989. Still others claim that the tradition dates back to Abraham Lincoln pardoning his son's pet turkey. Both stories have been quoted in more recent presidential speeches. In more recent years, two turkeys have been pardoned, in case the original turkey becomes unavailable for presidential pardoning.

Since 1970, a group of Native Americans and other assorted protesters have held a National Day of Mourning protest on Thanksgiving at Plymouth Rockmarker in Plymouth, Massachusettsmarker in the name of social equality and in honor of political prisoners.

Traditional celebrations

Foods of the season

U.S. tradition compares the holiday with a meal held in 1621 by the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims who settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts. It is continued in modern times with the Thanksgiving dinner, traditionally featuring turkey, playing a large role in the celebration of Thanksgiving. Some of the details of the American Thanksgiving story are myth that developed in the 1890s and early 1900s as part of the effort to forge a common national identity in the aftermath of the Civil War and in the melting pot of new immigrants.
Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner
In the United States, certain kinds of food are traditionally served at Thanksgiving meals. Firstly, baked or roasted turkey is usually the featured item on any Thanksgiving feast table (so much so that Thanksgiving is sometimes referred to as "Turkey Day"). Stuffing, mashed potatoes with gravy, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, sweet corn, other fall vegetables, and pumpkin pie are commonly associated with Thanksgiving dinner. All of these are actually native to the Americas or were introduced as a new food source to the Europeans when they arrived. As an alternative to turkey, many vegetarians or vegans eat tofurky, a meatless turkey made of tofu.

The less fortunate are often provided with food at Thanksgiving time. Most communities have annual food drives that collect non-perishable packaged and canned foods, and corporations sponsor charitable distributions of staple foods and Thanksgiving dinners.

Giving thanks

Saying grace before carving the turkey at Thanksgiving dinner


Thanksgiving was originally a religious observance for all the members of the community to give thanks to God for a common purpose. Historic reasons for community thanksgivings are the 1541 thanksgiving mass after the expedition of Coronado safely crossing part of Texas and finding game, and the 1777 thanksgiving after the victory in the revolutionary battle of Saratoga. In his 1789 Proclamation, President Washington gave many noble reasons for a national Thanksgiving, including “for the civil and religious liberty,” for “useful knowledge,” and for God’s “kind care” and "His Providence."The only presidents to inject a specifically Christian focus to their proclamation have been Grover Cleveland in 1896, and William McKinley in 1900. Several other presidents have cited the Judeo-Christian tradition. Gerald Ford's 1975 declaration made no clear reference to any divinity.

The tradition of giving thanks to God is continued today in various forms. Various religious and spiritual organizations offer services and events on Thanksgiving themes the week-end before, the day of, or the week-end after Thanksgiving.

At home, it is a holiday tradition in many families to begin the Thanksgiving dinner by saying grace (a prayer before or after a meal). The custom is portrayed in the photograph “Family Holding Hands and Praying Before a Thanksgiving Meal.” Traditionally grace was led by the hostess or host, though in later times it is usual for others to contribute.

Vacation and travel

During Thanksgiving Day families and friends usually gather for a large meal or dinner. Consequently the Thanksgiving holiday weekend is one of the busiest travel periods of the year. Thanksgiving is a four-day or five-day weekend vacation for schools and colleges. Most business and government workers (78% in 2007) are given Thanksgiving and the day after as paid holidays. Thanksgiving Eve, the night before Thanksgiving, is one of the busiest nights of the year for bars and clubs, as many college students and others return to their hometowns to reunite with friends and family.

In Buffalo, New Yorkmarker, the Saturday after Thanksgiving is the day of the World's Largest Disco, a tribute to disco and the 1970s that regularly draws thousands of dancers and the top performing acts of the 1970s.

Parades

In New York Citymarker, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is held annually every Thanksgiving Day from the Upper West Side of Manhattanmarker to Macy'smarker flagship store in Herald Squaremarker, and televised nationally by NBC. The parade features parade floats with specific themes, scenes from Broadway plays, large balloons of cartoon characters and TV personalities, and high school marching bands. The float that traditionally ends the Macy's Parade is the Santa Claus float, the arrival of which is an unofficial sign of the beginning of the Christmas season.

There are Thanksgiving parades in many other cities, including:



Several other parades have a loose association with Thanksgiving, thanks to CBS's now-discontinued All-American Thanksgiving Day Parade coverage. Parades that were covered during this era were the Aloha Floral Parade held in Honolulu, Hawaiimarker every September, the Toronto Santa Claus Parade in Toronto, Ontario, Canadamarker, and the Opryland Aqua Parade (held from 1996 to 2001 by the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Centermarker in Nashville); the Opryland parade was discontinued and replaced by a taped parade in Miami Beach, Floridamarker in 2002. A Disneylandmarker parade was also featured on CBS until Disney purchased rival ABC.

Shopping

The American Christmas season traditionally begins the day after Thanksgiving, it is known as "Black Friday", although most stores start to stock for and promote the December holidays immediately after Halloween or earlier.

Football

American football is an important part of many Thanksgiving celebrations in the United States. Professional games are traditionally held on Thanksgiving Day; until recently, these were the only games played during the week apart from Sunday or Monday night. The National Football League has played games on Thanksgiving every year since its creation; the tradition is referred to as the Thanksgiving Classic. The Detroit Lions have hosted a game every Thanksgiving Day since 1934, with the exception of 1939–1944 (due to World War II).

For many college football teams, the regular season ends on Thanksgiving weekend, and a team's final game is often against a regional or historic rival. Most of these college games are played on the Friday or Saturday after Thanksgiving, but usually a single college game is played on Thanksgiving itself. The best-known Thanksgiving holiday weekend games include:



High school football games, and informal "Turkey Bowl" contests played by amateur groups and organizations, are frequently held on Thanksgiving weekend.

Other sports

In college basketball, the annual 76 Classic and Old Spice Classic tournaments take place over Thanksgiving weekend, with many of the games being played on Thanksgiving itself. Games are televised on ESPN2 and ESPNU in marathon format. This is a relatively new "tradition," as these tournaments were founded in 2007 and 2006 respectively.

Though golf and auto racing are in their off-seasons on Thanksgiving, there are events in those sports that take place on Thanksgiving weekend. The Turkey Night Grand Prix is an annual automobile race that takes place at Irwindale Speedwaymarker on Thanksgiving night that draws some of the top racers in the United States. In golf, Thanksgiving weekend was the traditional time of the Skins Game from 1983 to 2008; the event was canceled in 2009 due to a lack of sponsorship and a difficulty in drawing star talent.

The world championship pumpkin chunking contest, held in early November in Sussex County, Delawaremarker, is televised on Thanksgiving on Science Channel.

Television and radio

While not as prolific as Christmas specials, which usually begin right after Thanksgiving, there are many special television programs transmitted on or around Thanksgiving.

Most special programs are transmitted during daytime on Thanksgiving. NBC currently carries the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade nationwide by official license from Macy's; NBC also carries the National Dog Show immediately after the Macy's Parade, followed by Miracle on 34th Street. CBS carries unofficial coverage of the Macy's parade and an NFL game; on odd-numbered years when CBS has the Dallas Cowboys game, the East Coast sees repeats of its daytime programs during the afternoons (on even-numbered when they have the Detroit Lions game, the West Coast programming is shuffled so that the extra time airs in late night hours). ABC has no daytime Thanksgiving specials; neither does FOX, although Fox also carries an NFL game. In syndication, The Oprah Winfrey Show carries its annual Oprah's Favorite Things some time around Thanksgiving, while syndicators will air Thanksgiving-themed episodes of sitcom reruns. WGN America carries the McDonald's Thanksgiving Parade and a special entitled Bozo, Gar and Ray: WGN TV Classics. Local television stations will occasionally preempt these programs in favor of local parades and events.

In prime time, ABC currently airs A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and "The Mayflower Voyagers" from This is America, Charlie Brown; until 2005 and again in 2008, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving aired on Thanksgiving night (though in 2006 and 2007, the network moved this to the Monday before so that they could compete head-to-head with CBS, who airs regularly scheduled programming, in a ratings war, as Thanksgiving lies within the November sweeps period). On Thanksgiving night, Fox usually carries a feature film; NBC's programming varies each year. Additionally, some series have over time featured Thanksgiving-themed episodes and specials, including WKRP in Cincinnati's famous episode "Turkeys Away". Music specials by popular artists are popular in the days leading up to Thanksgiving and on Thanksgiving itself.

Cable stations usually carry marathons of their popular shows on Thanksgiving Day. The 1939 film version of The Wizard of Oz is often aired on Thanksgiving Day on Turner Broadcasting owned outlets (either TBS or Turner Classic Movies).

On the radio, the Friday before Thanksgiving has, in recent years, been the benchmark and standard date for adult contemporary music stations to switch over to full-time Christmas music. There are a few Thanksgiving-themed specials and songs for various formats; many classic rock stations, for example, have a tradition of playing Arlo Guthrie's 1967 song "Alice's Restaurantmarker" on Thanksgiving, as the song's lyrics are about an event that takes place on the holiday, while many other stations will air Adam Sandler's "The Thanksgiving Song." In talk radio, The Rush Limbaugh Show has a tradition known as "The Real Story of Thanksgiving," in which Limbaugh argues (based upon texts such as Of Plymouth Plantation) that the early Puritans were communalists who, upon near starvation in the winter of 1621 with their system of common ownership of farm produce, switched to a free enterprise system and prospered. Westwood One carries all of the NFL Thanksgiving games, while the Sports USA Radio Network carries several of the Friday rivalry games.

Date

Since being fixed at the fourth Thursday in November by law in 1941, the holiday in the United States can occur on any date from November 22 to November 28. When it falls on November 22 or 23, it is not the last Thursday, but the penultimate Thursday in November. As it is a Federal holiday, all United States government offices are closed and employees are paid for that day. It is also a holiday for the New York Stock Exchangemarker and most other financial markets and financial services companies.

Thanksgiving dates, 2009–2014

  • November 26, 2009
  • November 25, 2010
  • November 24, 2011
  • November 22, 2012
  • November 28, 2013
  • November 27, 2014


Friday after Thanksgiving

The Friday after Thanksgiving, although not a Federal holiday, is a holiday for many companies, except for those in retail. It is also a day off for most schools. It is popularly known as Black Friday, so-called because of the heavy shopping traffic on that day. Another reason for the term 'Black Friday' is that many stores reach sales numbers that take them out of the red and (hopefully) keep them in the black for the rest of the fiscal year. Black Friday is considered to be the start of the Christmas shopping season.

Literature

Poetry



See also



References

  1. William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647, 85
  2. Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647, pg. 100
  3. For more information check out Making Thirteen Colonies: 1600-1740 (A History of US Book 2).
  4. Page 96 of Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation
  5. Source: William Bradford: History of Plymouth Plantation, c. 1650
  6. Page 103 of Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation
  7. [Zanesville Express, October 31, 1816.]
  8. http://www.atouchofbusiness.com/business-topics/success-stories/fred-lazarus-jr-0080.html
  9. National Archives: Congress Establishes Thanksgiving
  10. Presidential Turkey Pardon from Snopes.com
  11. President Bush Pardons "Flyer and Fryer" in National Thanksgiving Turkey Ceremony
  12. [1] the 1610 Jamestown thanksgiving after the arrival of supply ships
  13. Thanksgiving Timeline, 1541 - 2001
  14. Thanksgiving Timeline, 1541 - 2001
  15. Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamations 1789
  16. Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamations 1890
  17. Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamations 1900
  18. Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamations 1970
  19. [2]
  20. Giving Thanks and Saying Grace
  21. BNA - Thanksgiving Holiday Leave Reaches New High;Turkey Stages a Comeback as Employer Holiday Gift
  22. [3]
  23. Skins Game to take year off due to economy. Associated Press. 8 May 2009.


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