Why do Americans celebrate Thanksgiving?

Why do Americans celebrate Thanksgiving?

Americans started preparing their Thanksgiving menus weeks ago, with the requisite turkeys and stuffing ingredients likely already purchased for the holiday, which is celebrated this year on Thursday 24 November.

Apart from the food - arguably the main component of the day - the holiday is a beloved time of year when Americans come together to celebrate what they are thankful for, either with family or friends.

In America, Thanksgiving is a cultural holiday that symbolises peace, thankfulness, and the beginning of the holiday season.

What is Thanksgiving and where did it come from?

Thanksgiving is a national holiday in the United States celebrated in November.

The annual feast is in honour of the “first” Thanksgivings in America, in 1619 in Virginia, and in 1621, when colonists in Plymouth, Massachusetts, later known as the Pilgrims, shared a meal with the Wampanoag Indians, who were native to the land.

The later feast was in honour of the help the Pilgrims received from the Native Americans in cultivating crops and surviving their first harsh winter and it lasted three days.

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade takes place in New York

Performers walk in front of Macy's Tom Turkey float in the Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York (AP)
Performers walk in front of Macy's Tom Turkey float in the Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York (AP)
The Ronald McDonald balloon is inflated (Getty)
The Ronald McDonald balloon is inflated (Getty)
Sinclair's DINO balloon flies as the parade passes down 6th Avenue (Reuters)
Sinclair's DINO balloon flies as the parade passes down 6th Avenue (Reuters)
An NYPD officer stands by (AP)
An NYPD officer stands by (AP)
The Charlie Brown balloon flies in the parade (Reuters)
The Charlie Brown balloon flies in the parade (Reuters)
A marching band takes part in the parade (Reuters)
A marching band takes part in the parade (Reuters)
A balloon flies in the parade (Reuters)
A balloon flies in the parade (Reuters)
A performer in the parade (AP)
A performer in the parade (AP)
The Ronald McDonald balloon flies in the parade (AP)
The Ronald McDonald balloon flies in the parade (AP)
A clown performs in the parade (Reuters)
A clown performs in the parade (Reuters)
The Olaf balloon is inflated (Getty)
The Olaf balloon is inflated (Getty)

Later, US Presidents including George Washington, John Adams and James Madison called for days of thanks throughout their presidencies.

However, it was not until 1863, during the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln declared a national Thanksgiving Day would be held each November to be celebrated by all of the country.

When is Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving takes place each year on the fourth Thursday of November.

This year, Thanksgiving falls on 24 November.

Why do Americans celebrate it and what do they do?

Although Thanksgiving may originally have had religious significance, the day has become a mostly secular holiday.

Most Americans consider the holiday a day to gather and express their thanks through food, family, and football – with multiple NFL teams playing on the holiday.

During some Thanksgiving celebrations, people write down what they are thankful for and then read aloud from the pieces of paper.

In schools, children learn about the holiday by colouring in pictures of Pilgrims and turkeys and the Mayflower, the ship the colonists arrived on.

The day is also celebrated with the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.

The world’s largest Thanksgiving parade includes giant balloons of cartoons that float above the city sky, as well as marching bands and dancers.

Following Thanksgiving, the month-long shopping for the winter holidays begins, with Black Friday kicking off the season.

Where is it celebrated?

Thanksgiving is one of the the most important cultural holidays in America, however, Canada also has its own Thanksgiving Day, on the second Monday in October, and Liberia celebrates Thanksgiving on the first Thursday of November.

What do people eat on Thanksgiving?

In America, turkeys are an integral part of Thanksgiving Day, with most dinners including the bird.

An estimated 46m turkeys are killed annually for the holiday, however, one turkey is pardoned each year by the president.

But Americans who don’t eat meat or follow a vegan lifestyle don’t have to worry about missing out, as there are numerous vegan and vegetarian Thanksgiving options.

Americans also indulge in Thanksgiving favourites such as yams topped with marshmallows, stuffing, cranberry sauce, cornbread, and pumpkin pie.

Why is Thanksgiving controversial?

Although many Americans view Thanksgiving as a beloved holiday, it is viewed by some who have abandoned the holiday as a celebration of the conquest of Native Americans. The celebration has become controversial as Thanksgiving has a contentious history that goes far beyond when the first feast was held.

In addition to a holiday steeped with cultural appropriation, the period of history in America is frequently white-washed, which leads some Americans to ignore the holiday.