In the United States, October is dedicated to Halloween, and November to… Thanksgiving ! If you watch some American TV shows for example, you surely have heard about this celebration, numerous episodes are dedicated to this holiday around this period. You probably know a few Thanksgiving tractions in the US, either the famous stuffed turkey or the crazy Black Friday sales. This holiday is celebrated every year on the 4th Thursday of November in the US, and is usually followed by a long weekend. This year, it is on November 26th. Thanksgiving is not celebrated in Europe, but maybe you want to know more about the American traditions : here is a small guide to understand what it is all about ! Have fun reading 🙂
» History of Thanksgiving
The history behind Thanksgiving varies a bit, but overall, most stories trace it back to the 1620’s. At this time, a handful of English immigrants landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts with the Mayflower. They were called the Pilgrim fathers. Unfortunately, the first winter was rough for this new colony and only half of the men survived the cold and the lack of food. The following year, they were helped by the native Indians, who taught them how to hunt, fish and grow corn. In October 1621, the harvest was exceptional. In order to celebrate this fact, the colony’s governor, William Bradford, declared a thanksgiving day and invited the benefactors and neighbors for a meal. Game and turkey were served at the table. The tradition to celebrate the harvest then became annual. In 1789, George Washington established a thanksgiving day in the United States every year on November 26th. After that, presidents came after one another and each of them declared a new date for Thanksgiving. It was then in 1863 that Abraham Lincoln made November’s last Thursday a national holiday. Thanksgiving is nowadays one of the biggest celebrations in the US, some may even say that it is bigger than Christmas !
» Celebrating Thanksgiving in the US
Without any surprises, the principal Thanksgiving tradition is to gather around a huge meal on November’s last Thursday ! Americans are used to celebrate with their family, or with friends (or both actually !). If you spend Thanksgiving in the US, do not hesitate to ask your local friends for an invite to learn more about all the traditions. It is not considered inappropriate, on the contrary, this “habit” is even renamed Friendsgiving.
The preparation of the meal is relatively long (especially because the turkey is quite long to cook), which allows all the guests to gather around, talk and spend some time together. Even if the traditions may vary from one region or person to another, what are the essentiel elements on Thanksgiving menu ?
TURKEY – Yes, we are only talking about that, obviously the main meal will be turkey most of the time. It can also be replaced by poultry. It is then stuffed according to the host’s taste : maroons, mushrooms, dried fruits, oysters, apples… Discover Martha Steward’s turkey recipes and tips.
MASHED SWEET POTATOES – The turkey is generally served with mashed sweet potatoes, Americans are fond of this vegetable that we barely use in France and Europe. Discover Martha Steward’s sweet potatoes recipes.
CRANBERRY SAUCE – The sauce going with the turkey can be served in different ways : liquid sauce, chutney, jelly… But it is usually essentially composed of cranberries and then of orange, cinnamon or even apple for example. Discover Martha Steward’s cranberry sauce recipes.
BREAD – Nope, we are unfortunately not talking about a nice French baguette, but Americans still buy or bake bread rolls for Thanksgiving meal. To commemorate this celebration’s origins, it became a tradition to offer corn bread to the guests. Discover Martha Steward’s bread rolls recipes.
PIES – And if you are still hungry after spending hours in the kitchen and at the table… Do not forget dessert ! It is usually sweet pies : pecan pie, pumpkin pie or apple pie for the most famous ones. Discover Martha Steward’s Thanksgiving dessert recipes.
And like for any other big celebration… We always have leftovers for at least 2 weeks ! So here are some tips to cook them in different ways on the days following Thanksgiving :
Saying THANK YOU
As I was explaining it a bit earlier, the first Thanksgiving celebrations were meant to thank the Pilgrims fathers’ Indians benefactors. This tradition perpetuates itself nowadays because it is common to thank your family and friends and express what you are thankful for for the past year during Thanksgiving dinner. By turns, everyone remembers the good moments of the year just spent. This tradition is also widespread on social networks. Here are a few “wise” words on the same topic :
Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some. › Charles Dickens
Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough. › Oprah Winfrey
Another Thanksgiving tradition in the US is Macy’s parade in New York City ! The American store has organized this parade since 1924. The first edition was such a success that Macy’s directors decided to turn it into an annual event. Since 1927, the cortege is composed by many huge helium-blown balloons. They represent flagship animals or characters : from cartoons, comics… ! To learn more about the show, please visit Macy’s website.
Black Friday’s craziness
You may have heard about Black Friday. On the day after Thanksgiving, huge sales are organized by American stores. This concept was then applied in many other countries, like in Europe on big grands’ websites – Apple for example. Originally, it was a day meant to mark the beginning of Christmas shopping. In 2014, Americans spent around 51 billions dollars during that weekend. They hurry up in front of the stores very early in the morning and queue for hours to get their hands on the many good deals, causing sometimes an impressive rush unfortunately.
And one last anecdote !
Even if Thanksgiving is not celebrated by Europeans, one particular American tradition makes them smile for its craziness. In fact, every year, the US president pardons a turkey – or in more simple words, save it from Thanksgiving dinner. Harry Truman after World War II, John F. Kennedy in November 1963, George Bush in 1989… The exact origin of this habit is not very precise. But like ever since he became president, Barack Obama will not miss this tradition in 2015 and a whole ceremony with a speech and a benediction will be organized on November 26th to rescue one turkey from the oven ! Actually, 2 turkeys are spared : they were called “Mac” and “Cheese” last year and should be named “Tom One” and “Tom Two” this year.
» Sum up infographics !
I will now leave you to it with an image from History.com which sums up Thanksgiving in a few numbers (and it is sometimes quite impressive : a small thought to all the 46 million turkeys eaten during this holiday !). Do not hesitate to complete this article or ask me questions by leaving a comment just below ! Happy Thanksgiving !