Thanksgiving: More than just turkey, stuffing, and parades

A Thanksgiving turkey surrounded by other traditional American foods. Thanksgiving is a holiday you can learn about through intercultural training.

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Thanksgiving is a beloved holiday in the United States - a time for families and friends to come together, express gratitude, and enjoy a large feast. While many associate Thanksgiving with turkey and pumpkin pie, the history is a journey through time and cultures, blending Native American traditions with European customs to create a unique American celebration. 

The History of Thanksgiving

The roots of Thanksgiving can be traced back to the early 17th century, when a group of English Pilgrims seeking religious freedom set sail on the Mayflower and landed in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620. The first winter was harsh, leading to the deaths of many settlers. However, with the help of the indigenous Wampanoag people, they learned how to cultivate crops, including maize (corn), and hunt for local game. 

In 1621, the Pilgrims celebrated their successful harvest with a three-day feast, often considered the first Thanksgiving. The event was a sign of friendship and collaboration between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag, emphasizing the importance of unity and cooperation. 

The Evolution of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving celebrations varied throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, with individual colonies and states holding their own observances. It was in the 19th century that Thanksgiving as we know it began to take shape. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday, setting the date as the final Thursday in November. This proclamation aimed to foster a sense of unity during a divided and tumultuous time in the nation's history. 

In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) adjusted to the Thanksgiving holiday. With the Great Depression still affecting the economy, FDR moved Thanksgiving one week earlier to the third Thursday in November, hoping to extend the holiday shopping season. This decision faced resistance and was met with mixed reactions. In 1941, after two years of debate, FDR signed a bill making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November, where it remains today. 

Over time, Thanksgiving became a symbol of national unity and gratitude. Parades, football games, and the Presidential turkey pardon have all become integral to the modern Thanksgiving celebration. 

Thanksgiving Today

Today, Thanksgiving is a time for family gatherings, giving thanks, and feasting on turkey. Americans eat more than 690 million pounds of turkey every Thanksgiving! 

The traditional Thanksgiving meal typically includes roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, and various side dishes, followed by pumpkin pie and other desserts. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City is a beloved tradition, attracting millions of spectators, featuring giant helium balloons, marching bands, and celebrity performances. 

In recent years, there has been a growing emphasis on incorporating diverse cultural elements into Thanksgiving celebrations. Many families include dishes from their cultural backgrounds to make the meal more reflective of the nation's rich tapestry of immigrant traditions. 

 Volunteering is a common Thanksgiving Day activity, and communities often hold food drives and host free dinners for those in need. 

Another modern development was the rise of online shopping and the Black Friday sales the day after Thanksgiving. Many stores would open their doors on Thanksgiving evening, offering special deals and promotions to kick off the holiday shopping season. However, this has evolved to stores offering early Thanksgiving promotions, giving Black Friday pricing for several days or even weeks ahead of time.  

Black Friday used to mean getting up at 2 a.m. to get in line outside of stores to score a really great deal. But now, with stores offering promotions earlier and earlier, you can skip the lines entirely and shop online for the deals. The chaos and the crowds are what made it so fun.  

From the early days of Pilgrims and Native Americans sharing a harvest feast to today's modern celebrations with parades, football, and pumpkin pie, Thanksgiving has evolved into a highly anticipated holiday. It's a time for turkey, giving thanks, and coming together with loved ones. 

This blog post was written by Megan Tully, Marketing Manager.

 

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