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Thanksgiving is a holiday celebrated in much of North America, generally observed as an expression of gratitude, usually to God. The most common view of its origin is that it was to give thanks to God for the bounty of the autumn harvest. In the United States, the holiday is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. In Canada, where the harvest generally ends earlier in the year, the holiday is celebrated on the second Monday in October, which is observed as Columbus Day or protested as Indigenous Peoples Day in the United States.


Traditional celebration

Thanksgiving is traditionally celebrated with a feast shared among friends and family. In the United States, it is an important family holiday, and people often travel across the country to be with family members for the holiday. The Thanksgiving holiday is generally a "four-day" weekend in the United States, in which Americans are given the relevant Thursday and Friday off. Thanksgiving is almost entirely celebrated at home, unlike the Fourth of July or Christmas, which are associated with a variety of shared public experiences (fireworks, caroling, etc.)

Since at least the 1930s, the Christmas shopping season technically begins when Thanksgiving ends. In New York City, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is held annually every Thanksgiving Day in Midtown Manhattan. The parade features moving stands with specific themes, scenes from Broadway plays, large balloons of cartoon characters and TV personalities, and high school marching bands. It always ends with the image of Santa Claus passing the reviewing stand. Thanksgiving parades also occur in other cities like Plymouth, Houston, Philadelphia (which claims the oldest parade), and Detroit (where it is the only major parade of the year). Due to the earlier date, Santa Claus parades in Canada do not fall on Thanksgiving; the only major parade on that day in Canada is the Oktoberfest parade in Kitchener-Waterloo.

While the second-biggest day of shopping of the year in the U.S. is still the Black Friday after Thanksgiving (the biggest is now the Saturday before Christmas), most shops start to stock for and promote the December holidays immediately after Halloween, and sometimes even before.

Football is often a major part of Thanksgiving celebrations in the U.S. Traditionally, two professional games are played on Thanksgiving Day; until recently, these were the only games played during the week rather than on Sunday (other than Monday Night Football). The Dallas Cowboys and the Detroit Lions each host a game. Additionally, many college and high school football games may be played on the Friday after Thanksgiving, sometimes between historic rivals.

U.S. tradition associates the holiday with a meal held in 1621 by the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims who settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Some of the details of the American Thanksgiving story are myths 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.

The history of Thanksgiving in North America

In Canada, Thanksgiving is only a three-day weekend, and the holiday is not as important as in the US. Because of the shortened break, there is far less travel during Canada's Thanksgiving and it is far harder for families to come together. As a result, Christmas is therefore the more family oriented of the two holidays. Additionally, while the actual Thanksgiving holiday is on a Monday, Canadians might eat their Thanksgiving meal on any day of that three day weekend. This often means celebrating a meal with one group of relatives on one day, and another meal with a different group of relatives on another day. In addition, the early date means the weather is generally warm enough in many regions that it is completely ignored and becomes a day of recreation or going to the cottage as opposed to a family gathering. Some suggestions have been made to move the date onto another day of the week and another time, most likely to the same date as the US Thanksgiving (fourth Thursday in November), although no changes are planned. For Roman Catholic French Canadians the holiday, called l'Action de Grâce, has slightly more religious overtones.

Thanksgiving is closely related to harvest festival s that had long been a traditional holiday in much of Europe. The first North American celebration of these festivals by Europeans was held in Newfoundland by the Frobisher Expedition in 1578. Another event claiming to be the first Thanksgiving occurred on December 4, 1619 when 38 colonists from Berkeley Parish in England disembarked in Virginia and gave thanks to God.

Most people recognize the first Thanksgiving as taking place on an unremembered date, sometime in the autumn of 1621, when the Pilgrims held a three-day feast to celebrate the bountiful harvest they reaped following their first winter in North America.

Two American colonists have personal accounts of the 1621 Thanksgiving in Massachusetts:

William Bradford, in Of Plymouth Plantation:

They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their house and dwelling 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 of meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned by 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 did not hold Thanksgiving again until 1623, when it followed a drought, prayers for rain and a subsequent rain shower. Irregular Thanksgivings continued after favorable events and days of fasting after unfavorable ones. 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.

Some, including historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., point out that the first time colonists from Europe gave thanks in what would become the United States was on December 4, 1619, in Berkeley, Virginia. That was when the thirty-eight members of The Stanford Company landed there after a three-month voyage in the Margaret. Having been recruited from Gloucestershire to establish a colony in the New World, the men were under orders to give thanks when they arrived, so the first thing they did was to kneel down and do so.

Thanksgiving in the United States

The Pilgrims set apart a day for thanksgiving at Plymouth immediately after their first harvest, in 1621; the Massachusetts Bay Colony 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.

During the American Revolutionary War the Continental Congress appointed one or more thanksgiving days each year, except in 1777, each time recommending to the executives of the various states the observance of these days in their states.

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 Saratoga. The Continental Congress proclaimed annual December Thanksgivings from 1777 to 1783, except in 1782.

George Washington again proclaimed Thanksgivings, now as President, in 1789 and 1795. President John Adams declared Thanksgivings in 1798 and 1799. President Madison, in response to resolutions of Congress, set apart a day for thanksgiving at the close of the War of 1812. Madison declared the holiday twice in 1815; however, none of these were celebrated in autumn.

One was annually appointed by the governor of New York 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.

In the middle of the Civil War, prompted by a series of editorials written by Sarah Josepha Hale, the last of which appeared in the September 1863 issue of Godey's Lady's Book, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day, to be celebrated on the final Thursday in November 1863:

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.
No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.
It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.
Proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln, 3 October, 1863.

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

In 1939, President Roosevelt declared that Thanksgiving would be the next to last Thursday of November rather than the last. With the country still in the midst of The Great Depression, Roosevelt thought this would give merchants a longer period to sell goods before Christmas. Increasing profits and spending during this period, Roosevelt hoped, would aid bringing the country out of the Depression. At the time, it was considered inappropriate to advertise goods for Christmas until after Thanksgiving. However, Roosevelt's declaration was not mandatory; twenty-three states went along with this recommendation, and 22 did not. Other states, like Texas, could not decide and took both weeks as government holidays. Roosevelt persisted in 1940 to celebrate his "Franksgiving," as it was termed. The U.S. Congress in 1941 split the difference and established that the Thanksgiving would occur annually on the fourth Thursday of November, which was sometimes the last Thursday and sometimes the next to last. On November 26 that year President Roosevelt signed this bill into US law.

Beginning in 1947, the National Turkey Federation has presented the President of the United States with one live turkey and two dressed turkeys. The live turkey is pardoned and lives out the rest of its days on a peaceful farm.

Since 1970, a group of Native Americans and others have held a National Day of Mourning protest on Thanksgiving at Plymouth Rock in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Thanksgiving in Canada

Canadians trace the holiday to a feast held by Martin Frobisher in Newfoundland in 1578. It is also probable that American loyalists who emigrated to Canada after American independence brought with them many of their Thanksgiving traditions.

The Thanksgiving celebration was held occasionally in English areas of British North America in the eighteenth century, especially in Nova Scotia. The holiday rose to much greater prominence with the arrival of the United Empire Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution. The holiday became entrenched in English Canadian society.

The first official Canadian Thanksgiving Day was celebrated on April 5, 1872 in gratitude for the Prince of Wales' recovery from serious illness. The holiday was not officially recognized again till 1879, when parliament declared Thanksgiving to be an annual national secular holiday. The date was moved several times, finally being set on its current date (the second Monday in October) in 1957. For much of the period before 1957 parliament proclaimed the date annually.

Thanksgiving dinner

The centerpiece of contemporary Thanksgiving in the United States and Canada is a large meal in the late afternoon or evening, starring a large roasted turkey. Because turkey is the most common main dish of a Thanksgiving dinner, thanksgiving is sometimes colloquially called Turkey Day. The USDA estimated that 269 million turkeys were raised in the country in 2003, about one-sixth of which were destined for a Thanksgiving dinner plate.

Many other foods are served alongside the turkey—so many that, because of the amount of food, the Thanksgiving meal is generally served midday or early afternoon to make time for all the eating, and preparation may begin at the crack of dawn or days before.

Traditional Thanksgiving foods are sometimes specific to the day, and although some of the foods might be seen at any semi-formal meal in the United States, the meal often has something of ritual or traditional quality.

Commonly served dishes include cranberry sauce, gravy, mashed potatoes, candied yams, green bean s and stuffing. For dessert, various pies are served, particularly pumpkin pie, strawberry-rhubarb pie and pecan pie .

There are also regional differences as to the "stuffing" (or "dressing") traditionally served with the turkey. Southerners generally make theirs from cornbread, while in other parts of the country white bread is the base, to which oysters, apples, chestnuts, or the turkey's giblets may be added. These eating patterns are very similar in Canada.

Foods other than turkey are sometimes served as the main dish for a Thanksgiving dinner. On the West Coast of the United States, Dungeness crab is common as an alternate main dish, as crab season starts in early November. Turducken, a turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken, is becoming more popular, from its base in Louisiana. Deep-fried turkey is rising in popularity, requiring special fryers to hold the large bird. Vegetarians or vegans may try tofurkey , a tofu concoction imitating a turkey.

Other dishes reflect the region or cultural background of those who have come together for the meal. For example, Italian-Americans often have lasagna on the table and Ashkenazi Jews may serve noodle kugel, a sweet pudding. Among some African-American families, spaghetti and meatballs are sometimes made, especially if many children are to attend the dinner.


In certain parts of the USA, the name for Thanksgiving can be shortened or changed. These nicknames include:

  • Turkey Day (after the traditional Thanksgiving dinner)
  • T-Day (abbreviation of either "Thanksgiving" or "Turkey")
  • Macy's Day (exclusive to New York City, a reference to the parade, above, as in "Macy's Day Parade" instead of the proper "Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade")

See also: turkey (food), one-hour Thanksgiving dinner.

Popular culture

  • As the holiday most associated with family gatherings in the U.S., Thanksgiving is often humorously portrayed in movies and television as an occasion for extended family members to bicker with one another.
  • A number of U.S. television programs have featured Thanksgiving Day specials. Friends, a program that aired on Thursday nights, was especially noted for this.


External links

  • The Thanksgiving Story
  • Guide for teacher regarding Thanksgiving and Native American Culture
  • Thanksgiving Traditions
  • List of all Canadian thanksgiving days and their reasons
  • Thanksgiving Day Story
  • Thanksgiving Quotes
  • Thanksgiving Jokes

Thanksgiving food links

Wikibooks Cookbook has a relevant article under:

  Holiday Recipes

  • All Recipes-Thanksgiving Recipes
  • World Famous Recipes - Thanksgiving Recipes
  • Reader's Digest Complete Classic Recipe Guide
  • Butterball Turkey Holiday Guide
  • Thanksgiving and Holiday Cooking, from the National Turkey Federation
  • Epicurious Eating Thanksgiving Homepage
  • Food Network Thanksgiving,1972,FOOD_9845,00.html
  • Turkey tips from Metafilter
  • Martha Stewart Thanksgiving Planner;jsessionid=JMDCLRKHWILRTWCKUUWSGWWYJKSS2

Last updated: 02-06-2005 21:25:27
Last updated: 02-27-2005 12:25:38