Before the first piece of turkey is consumed today, chances are families will take a moment around the table to join hands, bow heads and give thanks for their bounty.
Saying a blessing over food is a tradition that dates to man's beginnings, encompassing all religions and cultures. And on Thanksgiving - a day tied to food like no other in this country - saying grace before a meal is part of the experience.
"Throughout recorded history, all cultures paid homage to food. ... Food is both physical and spiritual nourishment," Adrian Butash, author of "Bless This Food," said by phone from his home in California.
In his book, Butash examines the role the food blessing plays in a family's life, and provides examples of graces, some of which have been offered for thousands of years, but "have never lost their power."
"The thanksgiving food blessing is the prayer said most often in the home. This is its essential beauty," he writes. "Saying a blessing before a meal can bring us closer to our brothers and sisters, parents and friends. Asking a friend to choose and recite a food blessing is a wonderful way to welcome that person into a family setting."
On a day when families and friends gather to eat together, saying grace offers a chance to slow down, remember what we have, think of those who have less, and offer thanks.
"Everything comes from God, and one of the best and easiest times to remember that is in the routine of eating," said the Rev. John Trump, pastor of St. Andrew's Lutheran Church in Columbia.
The tradition of saying grace ties us to our past and teaches lessons to the next generations. Thanksgiving day doesn't have to be different - many families give thanks for meals every day - but it's a particularly good reminder.
"The calendar can help us," Trump said. "It reminds us to do that; to stop to give thanks."
The Rev. Neal Jones, pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia, calls the expression of gratitude a "reality check."
"It's a discipline that reminds us that life itself is a gift and that everything that matters is a gift. We're expressing gratitude for that gift," Jones said. "The blessing reminds us that none of us would be there if not for the contributions of others. Everything I have is borrowed from and shared with someone else."
Andre Rogers, director of pastoral ministries in the undergraduate division at Columbia International University, said we say grace to "acknowledge our God and express thanks to him for making it possible that we're able to have the meal together. The acknowledgment is the big thing."
A moment of thanks can be a stress reducer too, especially in the throes of a big family gathering.
Saying the blessing before eating releases any negative energy or force that could be present, and can make the mealtime environment a positive one.
Pastor Randall "Mack" Jackson, of Bible Way Church, said grace is a chance to truly thank God for what he has provided.
He had a reminder of those blessings recently as he was cleaning out his refrigerator.
"I thought about Thanksgiving and how I throw away so much food. There are persons in this world not fortunate like that. Even in this city and this state and this country," Jackson said. "I return grace because I'm mindful for those who don't have (as much). During the Thanksgiving holidays, I'll be praying or those less fortunate than we are, those who are not able to have the resources we have."
Jackson will attend two Thanksgiving meals today - with his family and with his wife's family.
"One thing we do at both houses, we tell what we're thankful for before we say grace," Jackson said.
That was particularly tough in 2006, the first Thanksgiving after Jackson's father died.
"My mother summed it up," he said. "She said she was thankful for the life she had with my father and thankful for all of us being here as a family unit, that this tradition will carry on throughout the years to come because of the things they instilled in us."
Some families recite a standard grace together; others ask one person to offer the blessing.
Rogers' advice? Keep it simple.
"It doesn't have to be something profound. You don't have to copy something you read somewhere. It should be a prayer that means something to you."
At his Thanksgiving table with his extended family, Rogers will "thank the Lord for waking me up this morning in my right mind, for starting me on my right way, for putting food on my table and clothes on my back. ... I will go on to thank the Lord for faith, family and for friends ... even for your enemies that keep you close to him."
Butash stressed the importance of getting children involved, suggesting asking one to pick and recite the blessing.
"Suddenly the child is at the head of the table, saying the grace, and everyone is listening and awestruck," he said. "It's quite beautiful."
Perhaps more than anything, saying a blessing before digging into the meal lets families reflect, however briefly.
"We're so busy as a society, and families are busy - the soccer moms, the busy fathers. I mean, we're the microwave generation. Prayer slows us down and helps us to capture the essence of the moment," Columbia International's Rogers said.
"And it helps us to tell God 'Thank you.'"