Thanksgiving in the USA

Thanksgiving is the 2nd most popular American holiday after Christmas and is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. It’s all about old family traditions and the obligatory Thanksgiving dinner, but there are some more things you need to know.

The story of Tanksgiving

There are three different tales competing for the title "The true origin of Thanksgiving," so the birth of this federal holiday in the USA is not entirely cleared up:

  • Among the Wampanoag, a federally recognized tribe of Native Americans, Thanksgiving was celebrated whenever there was an occasion. This could be a good harvest, the birth of a child, or another good fortune. 
  • Spanish colonists celebrated the first Thanksgiving in 1541 in what is now Texas with the Native American people of the Caddo to thank them for the food they had available. 
  • The Pilgrim Fathers celebrated a big Thanksgiving together with the Wampanoag in 1621 to thank them for their help after their arrival in America.

About 300 years before the US citizens started to feed themselves into a "food coma" at the end of November, Thanksgiving was celebrated without any rules. It was not until 1941 that the celebration of Thanksgiving was declared an official national holiday - by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Since then, every year before the holidays, millions of Americans "pilgrim" to their homes to visit their families, thus effectively paralyzing the entire US infrastructure.

Image of Give Thanks sign for Thanksgiving in the USA

Who celebrates thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving is celebrated in the USA regardless of religion or ethnicity. Other countries such as Germany, Canada, and England also celebrate the festival, but the Americans are, without a doubt, the undisputed Thanksgiving world champions.

Why is thanksgiving celebrated?

Thanksgiving is an expression of gratitude, and every US citizen knows that. 

The American harvest festival is the day of warmth, family, and friendship. People come together and reflect on how well off they are and to whom they owe it. 

On Thanksgiving, you should thank everyone that comes to mind: your parents, your teachers, your children, your pets... maybe even the guy who stole your parking space yesterday. 

Gratefulness is healthy, and Americans know that. Once you sit down, you will find many reasons to thank people, animals, or nature.

How has thanksgiving changed?

Unlike the over-commercialized holidays of Christmas and Halloween, Thanksgiving has not changed too much in most Americans' minds.

The few innovations in the "pop culture" of the festival were mainly caused by the food industry or Americans' changing family structures. A few exciting changes in the history of Thanksgiving are:

  • Friendsgiving: Many Americans attach less and less importance to living in conservative mother-father-child structures and therefore look for a "Framily" (word mix on "Friend" and "Family") with which they spend the celebration.
  • Canned food: We don't know how the advertising industry achieved this, but since the 1950s, there have been "traditional" Thanksgiving dishes that consist entirely of canned foods such as cream of mushroom soup and canned vegetables. The most famous example is the "Green Bean Casserole."
  • Food experiments: In modern households today, exotic side dishes are often used to spice up the traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Wannabe-cooks might suddenly fry mashed potatoes, whole roast cabbages, or fill the good old casserole with peaches - much to the regret of grandma and grandpa.
  • Vegan "Turkey" and "Baked Ham": Americans are increasingly opting for food free of animal suffering. Thus an entirely new sector of the food industry has emerged: The holiday roasts made of tofu, seitan, mushrooms, and legumes are called "Tofurky," "Quorn Turk'y Roast" or "Vegan Whole Turkey," and they often look deceptively real. Do they taste good? That is for you to decide.
  • Frying instead of baking: It is becoming more common for poultry to end up in the deep fryer instead of the oven. It's faster and undoubtedly delicious, but it's not without danger.

Practices and traditions: How Thanksgiving is celebrated in the USA

Traditionally, on Thanksgiving, the whole family comes over for a big feast, where the focus is not on food but on being together. The ancient customs are repeated year after year.

The thanksgiving dinner 

Image of a Thanksgiving table with food

Among the essential elements of the Thanksgiving dinner are:

  • Turkey: Thanksgiving is also called "Turkey Day" in the USA. The giant bird is roasted in the oven with a delicious stuffing (in the past, it was often made of oysters, today it's more likely to be bread with herbs and/or chestnuts).
  • Baked Ham: Baked or Glazed Ham is served either instead of the turkey or at the same time. The often sweet and sour preparation method with pineapple or apricot glaze and honey is certainly a matter of taste, but the preparation is much easier than that of turkey.
  • Filled pumpkin: A roasted pumpkin can be filled with just about anything that is delicious. Even vegetarians and vegans do not have to starve here. Popular fillings are made of cornbread, mushrooms, kale, sometimes pasta, and thyme. Depending on your taste, eggs, cheese, and cream can be added.
  • Cranberry Sauce: The question of whether Thanksgiving cranberry sauce is delicious or disgusting divides families, groups of friends, and perhaps even the entire United States. Very often, the bitter-sweet ingredient is shaken out of a can as a flabby purple block and served just like that. The homemade versions, however, are usually delicious and healthy.
  • Mashed potatoes: Only if they drip with butter, they are real Thanksgiving mashed potatoes.
  • Pumpkin pie: Another controversial Thanksgiving dish is the obligatory pumpkin pie. It is at least gorgeous to look at. Depending on the recipe, however, you can experience some pretty crazy spices and unexpected flavors like pepper, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom and cloves.

    Hint: There is also a canned version of the pumpkin puree available. However, we would advise against its use as long as you still have your sense of taste. 
  • Sweet potato casserole: A layer of sweet potatoes is spread with either marshmallows or brown sugar (or both). After that, the mixture is put in the oven.
  • Corn: The yellow cereal is cooked either on the cob, from the can, or from the freezer.
  • Other vegetables such as green beans, carrots, celery, parsnips, turnips, asparagus, brussels sprouts, fresh salad, cauliflower, or relish of pickles, olives, peppers, and onions
  • Pastries: These often include cornbread, rolls, cookies, and filled pies.
  • Pie, pie, pie! A hearty pecan pie is a must for Thanksgiving. Very often, apple pie, cherry pie, or sweet potato pie are also served.
  • Regional specialties are also often included. Every corner of the United States has its own traditional Thanksgiving treat.
  • After dinner: "Wishbone" breaking: The wishbone of the turkey is held by two people one on each end. After pulling it apart, the person holding the larger piece in his hand can make a wish.

how do americans spend thanksgiving day?

Even beyond the Thanksgiving feast, there are a few things that most Americans like to do on that day. We will sketch a typical Thanksgiving Day:

  • 09:00 am: Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV: The famous parade with its sensational floats passes through the streets of New York City every year. Millions of viewers follow the gigantic spectacle live on TV. Macy's Day Parade lasts until noon.

    At the same time: food preparations
  • 10:00 am: Last-minute purchases + food preparations

  • 12:00 pm: Annual Turkey Pardon by the US President on TV. Every year, two lucky turkeys receive the gift of life. The feathery winners are selected by the National Turkey Foundation.

    At the same time: food preparations
  • 12:00 pm: Drinks! The average American is already enjoying his first alcoholic drink now. Usually, autumnal cocktails with ginger, cranberry, and cinnamon or hot apple cider with vanilla are served.

    At the same time: food preparations
  • 12:00 pm: National Dog Show on TV: America's most fluffy competition is rather understood as an ironic tradition. Nevertheless, 20 million viewers are expected this year. The National Dog Show runs until 2 pm.

    At the same time: food preparations
  • 12:20 pm: Drinks! Beer is fine too.

    At the same time: food preparations
  • 12:30 pm: American Football live on TV. Traditionally on Thanksgiving, several NFL and college football games broadcast until late at night on Fox, CBS, NBC, and other channels.

    At the same time: food preparations
  • 12:20 pm: Drinks! Champagne?

    At the same time: food preparations
  • 1 pm: Food, food, food. The starting times for the big meal vary a lot, of course. However, snacking and nibbling is done all day long.
  • 5 pm: Food, food, food. You should have reached a respectable 3,000 calories by now. And we're not done yet.
  • 5 pm: Drinks! To be clear: There are excellent non-alcoholic cocktails for Thanksgiving. And coke (the US-American national drink) also helps against the bloated feeling.
  • From 7 pm: Off to the bar - more drinks! Everyone who comes home for Thanksgiving to visit his family and old friends wants to meet the latter, of course. While especially young people already head to the bar on "Blackout Wednesday" (the day before Thanksgiving), the older generations traditionally get lost on "Drinksgiving" at one of the many parties in the area. 

How long is Thanksgiving break in the USA?

Since Thanksgiving traditionally falls on a Thursday, most Americans take the Friday off to enjoy a 4-day vacation. With travel times of several days in some cases, the individual holiday for Thanksgiving is naturally prolonged accordingly.

Why do Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving?

Most likely, the first English settlers were responsible for the annual big turkey dinner. They are said to have chosen the turkey as a feast because of the bird's "practical size." However, just as with the origin of Thanksgiving, there are different tales being told. 

In stories about the origin of Thanksgiving in the USA, however, the turkey played a minor role. Instead, mainly game meat that was eaten. The Thanksgiving turkey did not appear so prominently on the dinner table of American households until the mid-19th century.

Bonus: Fun Facts about Thanksgiving

  • Early Thanksgiving Dinner: Families have begun to start their Thanksgiving dinner between 1:00 and 3:00 p.m. and sit together for hours. It is also not uncommon for a family member to nap on the sofa for a short time during dinner and then come back to the table to keep on eating.

  • Wishbone without turkey: The American Ken Ahroni and his company "Lucky Break" actually invented commercial plastic bones. He wanted to put an end to the shortage of Thanksgiving wishes. This also led to the fact that now vegetarians and vegans can participate in the traditional wishbone breaking.  

  • The turkey is by no means the main course in all American households. Deer, shellfish, or even eel are also common.

  • Americans consume up to 4,500 calories per person on Thanksgiving.

  • The turkeys pardoned by the US president get their own bodyguards when they are brought to the White House. The official resident's website also features their personal profiles, which include the birds' favorite music and food, the sound of their "gobble" (the unique turkey sound), and their further life goals.

  • Gentle birds: Turkeys can form strong bonds with humans. They like to play with round objects and are very curious by nature. Like humans, turkeys can recognize each other by their very own unique calls.

What happens after Thanksgiving?

The day after Thanksgiving is called "Black Friday" and is all about bargain hunting throughout America. Invented by US retailers, the shopping day is known for mega discounts of the kind you really only get once a year. Since the Internet trade has become popular, Black Friday is followed by "Cyber Monday."

So if you've been wondering how to get rid of those 4,500 calories, pay a visit to the retailers in your area on Black Friday and get fit again.

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