Call to book01904 734 939
Tour Search

Traditions of Thanksgiving

23 November 2017

A time for delicious food, good will and family - you'd be forgiven for thinking this blog was about Christmas with an introduction like that! In fact, we're talking about that most American of traditions, the extravaganza that is Thanksgiving day, held on the fourth Thursday of November.

Thanksgiving itself was first celebrated back in 1621. After a treacherous crossing across the Atlantic, a ship called the Mayflower, full of migrants from England, sailed along the bay of Massachusetts and set up a village which they named Plymouth. Upon arrival, they suffered a terrible winter, beset by ferocious cold and destructive diseases which killed nearly half of all the ship's passengers. The remaining half hunkered down and survived and by March, they made contact with a Native American from the Abenaki tribe. In turn, they were introduced to another tribe, the Pawtuxet tribe who lived up near Rhode Island.

What followed was a year of peaceful habitation, seeing Native Americans of both the Pawtuxet and the Wampanoag tribes teach the settlers how to survive and live on the American continent. It was a result of this friendship that the first Thanksgiving was had, when members of the Plymouth Colony who had crossed over to American sat down to a magnificent 3-day feast with members of the Wampanoag Native American tribe. This tradition quickly spread across the country, with many new settlements and colonies taking on the festivities. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln declared the day a national holiday to be known by its current name of Thanksgiving.

So in honour of our friends across the pond, let us give you a quick break down of the customs surrounding the big day itself:

The Turkey
In a nod to the origins of Thanksgiving, the turkey has been a longstanding centrepiece to the Thanksgiving day. Found on tables across America and beyond, the presence of the turkey for Thanksgiving goes all the way back to that original meal between the passengers of the Mayflower and the Wampanoag tribe. While the turkey may not have been the main star of that particular feast, it was noted by early accounts that several different fowl were brought and eaten by both the Native Americans and the pilgrims. It has also been speculated that the turkey's inclusion may well simply be on the table because this flightless bird, as a native of America, is truly the all-american bird. So much so, that American hero Benjamin Franklin declared the turkey to be the national bird of the newly formed United States, a declaration which would not last long in the face of the rather more imposing Bald Eagle.

With the very nature of Thanksgiving being one of humanitarian mission, American's up and down the country reach into their pockets to provide for those in need. Various charity organisations from all walks of life organise food runs, dinners and fundraising events to provide food, drink, clothes other items to homeless people and those with desperate need. Similarly, as Thanksgiving has strong religious overtones, many members of religious communities come together to give thanks to their relative gods, attending religious ceremonies and often offering up a prayer before tucking into the food.

American Football
With Thanksgiving being as it is, an American festival, it comes as little surprise that the true American pastime of American is a major tradition. Dating back to the 19th century, many American's gather around the television or take to the fields to either play or catch a game of American football. The national governing body for American football, the NFL, put on three games each year on this day with one traditionally played between the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys. With many families gathering for the day, Thanksgiving can also include individual family matches, adding that competitive touch to any Thanksgiving get together.

Macy's Thanksgiving Parade
The world's largest parade, packed full of all manner of delightful floats featuring children's figures from across the globe, Macy's Thanksgiving Parade is a glorious extravaganza put on by department store Macy's. Marching down the streets of New York, this parade has played host to Charles Schulz's Charlie Brown, the Flintstones and Pokémon throughout the years, and people across the city are treated to the surreal site of enormous balloon children's characters navigate the glittering skyscrapers. Attended by tens of thousands every year since 1931, where the leading balloon was shaped like Felix the Cat, this celebration has become a true Thanksgiving tradition, watched by Americans around the world.

So those are just some of the wild and wonderful traditions happening in the United States on the fourth Thursday of November. Let us know some of your own, if you have any, in the comments below!