Thanksgiving Traditions: A Guide to Celebrating This Festive Holiday

Thanksgiving, originating in 1621 with the Pilgrims and Wampanoag, is a U.S. holiday for giving thanks and feasting, set as a national date by Lincoln in 1863.

Thanksgiving History and Significance

Thanksgiving is a time-honored tradition in the United States, steeped in the history and cultural importance that dates back to the early 17th century.

This section will explore the roots of Thanksgiving and how it evolved into the national holiday Americans celebrate today.

Origins and First Celebrations

The commemoration of Thanksgiving traces back to the autumn of 1621 when the English Pilgrims of the Plymouth Colony held a three-day feast to celebrate a bountiful harvest with the Wampanoag people.

This event is commonly referred to as the “First Thanksgiving.” Although there are accounts of earlier thanksgiving celebrations in North America, the Plymouth gathering is the most recognized origin of the holiday.

The Pilgrims, having arrived on the Mayflower in 1620, settled in what is now Massachusetts and worked to build a community in harsh conditions.

The survival of the Plymouth Colony can be attributed in part to the aid of Squanto and other members of the Wampanoag tribe who taught the colonists vital survival skills.

The feast in 1621 represented a moment of peace and gratitude between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans, which included foods like venison, fowl, and harvested crops.

Presidential Proclamations and National Recognition

The idea of setting aside a day to give thanks for one’s blessings became more widespread in the United States after a public campaign by Sarah Josepha Hale, an influential magazine editor.

Her efforts culminated when President Abraham Lincoln declared a national day of Thanksgiving in 1863, amid the Civil War, to be celebrated on the final Thursday in November.

The proclamation urged Americans to observe a day of thanksgiving and praise as a relief from the ongoing conflict.

Thanksgiving gained further recognition as a national holiday under the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Although Lincoln had selected the last Thursday in November, Roosevelt slightly adjusted the holiday to the fourth Thursday to extend the Christmas shopping season during the Great Depression, and Congress later fixed the date into law in 1941.

Since then, Thanksgiving has been celebrated as a federal holiday across the United States, signifying a time of gratitude, feasting, and family gatherings.

Thanksgiving Traditions and Celebrations

A table set with a bountiful feast, surrounded by family and friends.</p><p>A warm, cozy atmosphere with fall decorations and a sense of gratitude and togetherness

Thanksgiving traditions in the United States revolve around a day characterized by a pleasurable feast and various forms of entertainment shared with family and friends.

Celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November, which falls on November 28 in 2024, these customs have deep historical roots and have evolved over centuries to include a mixture of cultural practices.

Feasting and Foods

Thanksgiving Day typically involves a bountiful feast centered around a roasted turkey.

This meal is a time for families to gather at home and share in the abundance of the fall harvest.

A traditional menu often includes turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and various dishes made from corn, a staple of the New England diet.

Desserts are characteristically seasonal, with pumpkin pie being a favorite.

Signifying the harvest, these dishes trace back to the colonists and native Wampanoag tribe’s 1621 harvest meal.

Parades, Football, and the Day After

Parades on Thanksgiving, such as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, are a spectacle in urban centers, showcasing oversized balloons, floats, and marching bands.

Football games have also become synonymous with Thanksgiving, often bringing family members together to cheer on their favorite teams.

The day after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday, marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping season and is critical for the economy with its special deals and extended shopping hours.

Both events have become ingrained in the Thanksgiving holiday, representing a continuum of celebration and festivity through the long weekend.