Thanksgiving Day – History, Traditions, and 6 Fun Facts

Petr Novák

Thanksgiving Day ranks as the most popular holiday in the USA. According to tradition, families gather for dinner, roast turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce, and serve pumpkin pie for dessert. Originally, Thanksgiving was a time to give thanks for a bountiful harvest, but today it is more about shopping and overeating.

Thanksgiving in the USA | © Ed Uthman

Table of Contents
  1. When Thanksgiving Is Celebrated and the History of the Holiday
  2. Thanksgiving Traditions and Customs
  3. Thanksgiving Fun Facts

When Thanksgiving Is Celebrated and the History of the Holiday

Thanksgiving Day in the USA always falls on the fourth Thursday in November, while in Canada it is celebrated on the second Monday in October.

Thanksgiving celebrations originated sometime in the 16th century, when Spanish colonizers began giving thanks to God for the crops and harvests of the concluding year. European settlers were not accustomed to the distinct climate of North America, and so their harvests were not always plentiful. And as was the custom of the time, they attributed the failure to God.

The first documented Thanksgiving celebration was held by the Pilgrims in the town of Plymouth in Massachusetts in 1621. The feast lasted three days, and 90 Native Americans attended in addition to 54 Pilgrims.

The celebration became a tradition and November 28 became a new holiday, soon known throughout North America. The date of the holiday has changed several times.

In 1863, Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday falling on the last Thursday in November. The last adjustment was made by President Roosevelt in 1941, when he moved it to the fourth Thursday in November. The change was intended to extend the shopping season in years when November is five weeks long and help the American economy. Interestingly, the first year the change was not adopted by all USA states.

Thanksgiving Traditions and Customs

All USA states recognize Thanksgiving as a national holiday. People do not work and start early in the morning to prepare the stuffing for the turkey, which is served that evening in 92% of American families.

Turkeys average 15.43 lb, and the recipe for stuffing is a closely guarded secret passed down through generations. Cranberry sauce or brown gravy meat sauce, sweet potatoes, sweet corn, and pumpkin pie are served with the turkey.

The whole family gathers around the holiday table. An important element is the saying of a prayer before the feast begins or after it is over. Charity events are common, with volunteers and various organizations distributing food to the homeless.

Thanksgiving is followed by Black Friday. It kicks off the Christmas season with discounts of up to 70% on everything from electronics to clothing. Stores have their highest sales of the year on this day, with many opening after midnight. Black Friday is not a public holiday, but 75% of employees take paid time off.

Families usually stay together until Sunday. Besides shopping, they watch American football and festive parades in the streets. The biggest is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, held annually in New York City since 1924. A crowd of 750,000 people watches the parade, filled with allegorical floats and outlandish costumes, on its way from Central Park to the Macy’s store in Herald Square.

Since 1924, America’s Thanksgiving Parade has also been held in Detroit.

Thanksgiving Fun Facts

1️⃣ $3,000,000 for Overfed Turkeys

According to surveys, turkey is the holiday meal in 90-95% of American families. As a result, about 280 million turkeys weighing a total of 3 million tons are sold in the USA each year. In total, Americans spend around $3,000,000,000 on turkeys. Thanksgiving also accounts for 20% of total annual cranberry consumption.

2️⃣ Thanksgiving Has Given Rise to Oven-Ready Meals

In 1953, the American company C.A. Swanson & Sons misjudged demand and shipped 260 tons more meat to market than was needed. Someone in the company had the idea to carve the unsold turkeys and sell them in small packages with a side dish. The food could be heated in the oven for a few minutes. America at the time was experiencing a boom of televisions in homes, so the new hit was called “TV dinner”.

3️⃣ The Toughest Day for Plumbers

Black Friday is said to be the toughest day of the year for plumbers who have to deal with clogged pipes. Americans are accustomed to disposing of cooking waste through the sink, which is usually equipped with a shredder for this purpose.

4️⃣ Thanksgiving Became a National Holiday After 17 Years of Persuasion

For 17 long years, Sarah Josepha Hale had to persuade Abraham Lincoln with her letters before he made Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. The same lady is the author of the famous song “Mary Had a Little Lamb”.

5️⃣ Presidential Pardon for the Turkey

Since 1989 and the first term of George Bush Sr.’s presidency, a presidential pardon has been awarded to a turkey each year. In the past, lucky turkeys have lived to see, for example, the farm in Mount Vernon, Virginia, where George Washington once lived.

6️⃣ Thanksgiving in Canada

Canada celebrates Thanksgiving the second week of October, and it is a national holiday in most provinces. The traditional meal consists of roast turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes with gravy, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, sweet corn, and pumpkin pie.

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