Thanksgiving: history and traditions in the U.S.


Photo Credit: Christine Silvana

With leaves falling and the sun setting, families and friends gather to spend time together and be reminded of why we should be thankful.

By: Christine Silvana, Fall Reporter

Thanksgiving is a national holiday in the United States. This year the United States celebrates Thanksgiving on Thursday, November 24th. It’s a holiday celebrated with food, family, and fun.

History of Thanksgiving

The history of Thanksgiving dates back to 1621. The Pilgrim’s and the Indians made an alliance prior to their first autumn harvest feast. The alliance lasted for more than 50 years. Following the treaty, after the Pilgrims’ first successful corn harvest, the Plymouth and Wampanoag Indians’ shared autumn harvest feast. Governor William Bradford organized a feast to celebrate the harvest. In consideration to the new alliance, he decided to invite the Native American allies, including the Wampanoag chief Massasoit. The festival lasted for three days. According to historians, Pilgrims and Colonists used traditional Native American spices and cooking methods. The harvest feast signifies America’s first Thanksgiving. The colonies celebrated days of thanksgiving for more than two centuries.

The Continental Congress entitled one or more days of thanksgiving a year during the American Revolution. In 1789, President George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation. Washington called Americans to express gratitude for the successful ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Years later, New York became one of the first states to adopt Thanksgiving as an annual holiday in 1817. Each state celebrated it on a different day. The American South, however, remained unfamiliar with the tradition. However, people established campaigns to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. At the height of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed it as a national holiday in 1863. Lincoln scheduled Thanksgiving for the final Thursday in November.


Santa and his helpers at the 87th Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Photo Credit: Photo via under Creative Commons License
Santa and his helpers at the 87th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Photo Credit: Photo via under Creative Commons License

Thanksgiving focuses on celebrating with family and friends, and participating in different Thanksgiving events. Since 1924, Thanksgiving mornings consisted of watching the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It is the most famous and second-oldest Thanksgiving parades in the United States. It’s a three hour event that takes place in New York City. The parade is broadcasted nationally; however people like to watch it live and up close. The parade is famous for having large balloons and floats that slowly make their way through the route. Many musical artists, actors, celebrities, marching bands and Broadway stars are present and perform at this event.

Some traditions never change. Just like the Pilgrims held a feast, a “Thanksgiving feast” is held where everyone in the family gathers at one house and shares a hearty meal. The main focus is on cooking and spending time with family and friends. Typically, the main course of dinner is the turkey. It has become a Thanksgiving staple, however, it may or may not have been an offer when the Pilgrims had the first Thanksgiving back in 1621. Many dishes are served besides the turkey. Other traditional dishes include pumpkin pie, corn, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, gravy, cornbread, and vegetables. These dishes are also served with other traditional dishes from other cultures. For example, sophomore Mariana Jessica, explains how a traditional dish, such as the turkey, is served with Indonesian food.

“At home, my mom either makes turkey or just buys a cooked turkey. Along with that, she cooks a traditional Indonesian fried rice dish. We make a spicy sauce similar to salsa to eat the fried rice and turkey with. It’s nice to have a mix of an American and Indonesian traditional meal for Thanksgiving. It reminds me to be thankful that I’m part of both cultures.”

During Thanksgiving, it’s typical for most Americans to watch football. American football is considered to be an important part of many Thanksgiving celebrations. It’s a tradition that dates back to the 19th century. Professional football games took place on Thanksgiving Day; and until recently, these were the only games played during the week beside Sunday or Monday night.  It’s also typical for people to watch holiday movies. Although not as popular as Christmas movies, Thanksgiving movies or programs are playing on TV specials. A classic movie watched would be A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving was founded as a religious observance for all the members of the community to give thanks to God for a common purpose. Decades and centuries later, the Thanksgiving celebration in the U.S. lost much of its original religious significance. However, many houses of worship offer worship services and events for those who would like to attend. The tradition of giving thanks to God is continued through attending religious services or saying a mealtime prayer before the Thanksgiving dinner. In some households, it’s still a holiday tradition to begin the dinner by saying grace and sharing what they’re thankful for.

Whether or not a prayer is said or a religious service is attended, it’s always good to share and be reminded of why everyone should be grateful. It’s a time to realize how much there is to be thankful for and to be reminded that not everyone can say that. A tradition rose up in which members of the community would host a food drive or give to an organization that would help those in need during the holiday season. Most communities have food drives that collect non-perishable packaged and canned foods, and the food collected would be donated to those who are in need of it. The Salvation Army also hosts Thanksgiving dinners worked by volunteers for the poor and needy. Thanksgiving is a holiday to not only give thanks, but also give back.



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