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 What is American Thanksgiving all about?


November 2017

Thanksgiving. Picture thanks to leading American department store Macy’s
Picture thanks to leading American department store Macy’s

Most people will have heard of American thanksgiving and the big turkey festivals held at the end of November. For Americans, this is often bigger than Christmas and the main celebration of the year.

The event dates back to the 1600s and was a version of our harvest festival when people gave thanks for their produce.

It all began when the pilgrims, a group of European settlers, arrived in Massachusetts. They had a bad beginning and many of them starved to death. The traditional story of Thanksgiving is that at this time the settlers came into contact with Squanto, a Native American from the Pawtuxet tribe. Squanto had been captured by an English explorer a few years earlier and so had learned to speak English. He acted as an interpreter between the settlers and the local Wampagnoags tribe and also helped the settlers with their crops and fishing.

The harvest was really good and in the autumn of 1621, the Pilgrims celebrated with a harvest Thanksgiving feast to which the native Americans were also invited.

However, this is probably not quite the case and there is certainly dispute as to whether the local people were invited. An alternative view is available at and at

Either way, the idea of Thanksgiving gradually spread across the growing states and country and in 1789 George Washington declared the first National Thanksgiving Day. It has been celebrated every since. At the beginning no doubt it was probably a religious service as well as a good meal, for the settlers were of course very religious, but today it is celebrated across America by many people whatever their faith or beliefs.

Today it is always celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, which means the following Friday is usually a holiday as well giving Americans four days off.

It is very much a family tradition, as Christmas is in the UK, when relations get together to enjoy a very special meal. Turkey is the main meal of Thanksgiving with stuffing and vegetables and also the root vegetable yams.

Unlike here in the UK though, the big celebratory turkey is often deep fried rather than roasted. Many Americans say it tastes much better deep fried and the cooking time is also a lot quicker. However, putting a turkey into an enormous pot of bubbling oil can be quite dangerous and today many American’s have special deep frying equipment that they use outside. If you are interested in deep frying a turkey for a change, visit this website.

Instead of Christmas pudding, at Thanksgiving Americans tend to serve pumpkin pie, a lovely sweet dish that can be accompanied by cream or ice cream.

Thanksgiving really is about food and there is no tradition of gift giving as we have in the UK for Christmas. However, with families and friends often getting together for large parties, people usually turn up with something for the host.

Again like the UK at Christmas, the special meal can be served up both at lunchtime or in the evening according to family traditions, but it is always on the Thursday meaning that for the following three days the country can devote itself to fun.

Some big cities hold special Thanksgiving Day Parades, with bright floats and music and so on. The most famous is Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade which has been a feature of New York since 1924.

Sport is very big on Thanksgiving weekend, playing and watching American football is traditional at Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is also a time when many American’s choose to go on holiday, adding to their days away from work with the additional Thanksgiving holiday period.

In the UK, there is an increasing trend for people to join in by simply having a turkey at the end of November and many supermarkets now stock turkeys in time for Thanksgiving.

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