Thanksgiving is a public holiday celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States of America. This special day originated as a harvest festival to celebrate the crops produced in the Pilgrims’ first harvest. Throughout the USA people will be attending parades and sporting events and enjoying a special meal with friends and family. Although Thanksgiving is not a holiday in Britain, many people still celebrate the harvest festival at this time of year. Join us to explore Thanksgiving and learn more about its cultural significance and related vocabulary.
History of Thanksgiving
The first Thanksgiving event in the USA was celebrated by the Pilgrims after their first harvest in the New World in October 1621.
During the second half of the 19th century, Thanksgiving traditions in America varied from region to region. Some traditions included raffles, shooting matches, church services, sports, games and feasting.
In New York, children would dress up in costumes as ‘ragamuffins’ and have fun parades in the streets.
Today Thanksgiving is always celebrated on a Thursday. Former US president, Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation in 1863 designated the national day of Thanksgiving to be the last Thursday of November. This was later amended to the fourth Thursday in November.
Thanksgiving is a day of family celebration and nearly always includes a special meal, which is similar to a traditional Christmas dinner.
The dinner usually includes traditional foods such as roast turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, vegetables, gravy and mashed and sweet potatoes. Green bean casserole is popular in some regions. For dessert, pumpkin pie is traditional – and delicious!
In the image at the top of this post you can see the characters in the American TV show Friends enjoying a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
American people eat more food on Thanksgiving Day than on any other day of the year, including Christmas Day!
Thanksgiving Day Parades
Parades are a traditional part of Thanksgiving celebrations. In New York, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is held every year.
Macy’s is a famous American department store.
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade starts on the Upper West Side in Manhattan and runs through New York City to the Macy’s flagship store in Herald Square.
Giant balloons might depict characters such as Bart Simpson, Sponge Bob Square Pants, Spiderman, Kermit the Frog, Tintin, Ronald McDonald, Paddington Bear, Thomas the Tank Engine and many other famous TV characters, along with huge turkeys and pumpkins!
The Santa Claus float is traditionally the last float and this signals the start of the Christmas season! Many people flock to see the parade in New York and it is televised nationally.
Other important events at this time of year include American Football games. There are also basketball games and ice hockey games. These are all traditional American sports.
Similarly in Britain, football (soccer) matches are traditionally held on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas.
The Harvest Festival
Thanksgiving is very much an American celebration and this is not a public holiday or a celebration in Britain. One reason for this is that the early Pilgrims celebrated Thanksgiving following their successful departure from England.
In Britain, we do celebrate the Harvest Festival at this time of year with churches and schools in particular collecting food gifts to help people in need. However, this is a smaller celebration than Thanksgiving in America.
Charity is a big part of Thanksgiving in general across all countries that celebrate the harvest time. Most communities have collections so people can donate non-perishable food and tinned goods.
Thanksgiving in Other Countries
In Canada, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday in October. This event is thought to have started in 1578 when Martin Frobisher held a celebration dinner to give thanks for his safe passage from England.
Other countries that celebrate Thanksgiving include Germany, Korea, Liberia and Japan.
Germany celebrates the Harvest Thanksgiving Festival in early October, Korea celebrates Korean Thanksgiving Day in late September or early October, Japan celebrates Labour Thanksgiving on November 23rd and Liberia celebrates Thanksgiving on the first Thursday of November.
Black Friday – the Countdown to Christmas Begins!
Similar to Halloween and McDonalds, Black Friday was an American invention.
Although the concept of Black Friday originated in America, it is now promoted in British shops, causing stores to cut prices and hold huge sales.
The first Black Friday event arrived in England in 2010, but it wasn’t until 2013 that this shopping sale day really took off in Britain.
Before recently, the only big shopping sale day was Boxing Day (26th December). On Boxing Day, many shoppers would queue overnight in sleeping bags to make sure they were there when the shop opened its doors in the morning!
Today, many people shop online instead of going out to the stores. This is due to convenience, to avoid the crowds and to avoid the cold winter weather!
In fact, Cyber Monday is often the name given to the first Monday after Thanksgiving. This is an online shopping day.
In practice, many stores have big sales across the week of Thanksgiving and all through the weekend.
Why is it Called ‘Black Friday’?
This is in contrast with being ‘in the red’ (in financial difficulty). Here ‘black’ and ‘red’ refer to the traditional ink colours used by accountants.
Another explanation is that the Friday after Thanksgiving was so busy with traffic and pedestrians that traffic accidents occurred. So the name Black Friday was to point out this negative and dangerous aspect of the day.
Share your thoughts on Thanksgiving
As we are based in England, it would be great to hear from some American readers about their experiences of Thanksgiving!
Do you celebrate Thanksgiving?
What do you normally eat for Thanksgiving Day dinner?
In what other ways do you celebrate Thanksgiving in your community?
Do you go shopping on Black Friday or Cyber Monday? Do you enjoy shopping in the stores or do you prefer to shop online?
What other American traditions would you like your home country to adopt?
Share your thoughts in the comments box!