American Thanksgiving: What’s it all about?

You may be familiar with the word “Thanksgiving” as an American holiday, but beyond that…what’s it all about?

History

The American holiday of Thanksgiving (there’s a Canadian Thanksgiving in October, unrelated to the American holiday) takes place on the fourth Thursday of November each year.

It is not a religious holiday and therefore is a nationwide, commonly celebrated holiday. American school children learn early on that Thanksgiving celebrates the first harvest of European colonists in the U.S. (called Pilgrims) in the early 1600s, which was successful because of help from a local Native American tribe. They prepared a meal from the harvest and celebrated the feast with the tribe.

(It’s important to note that many people take issue with [“take issue with” = “do not agree with”] how the “first Thanksgiving” story is presented. Native Americans were largely mistreated and persecuted by settlers, and the story of the first Thanksgiving implies that the relationship with much friendlier than it actually was.)

Ok, that’s great, but what’s the holiday really like today?

Food

You guessed it: eating.

Family and friends gather that the dinner table on Thanksgiving to eat many traditional fall foods such as: turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. (And usually much more than this!)

For some families, it is simply a large, special meal, while other families mark the holiday by talking about the things they are thankful for.

A traditional Thanksgiving table

What’s it about…besides food?

Cultural Connections

The majority of workers have Thanksgiving day off, and many have the next day off (always a Friday…more about that below), so regular TV programs are replaced by the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, as well as major league football games. Since Thanksgiving marks the traditional beginning of the American holiday season (which ends with New Year’s), holiday-themed movies are often televised Thanksgiving night.

In addition, because many workers have both Thanksgiving Thursday and the following day off, the long weekend means that the day prior to Thanksgiving is commonly thought to be the busiest travel day of the year in the United States.

The day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday, because many stores offer significant discounts on this day, as it marks the beginning of the holiday shopping season. The word “black” in the title refers to the fact that many stores make a profit after their sales this day (which is called “being in the black;” the opposite – losing money – is called “being in the red”). Stores open very early on Black Friday to get shoppers buying as quickly as possible.

A typical ‘Black Friday’ scene at a U.S. store.

Interestingly, the following Monday has been labeled “Cyber Monday,” because many websites offer significant discounts on this day.

A smaller, more recent trend has been to call the Saturday after Thanksgiving “Small Business Saturday,” where people are encouraged to shop at local businesses rather than national chains.

As you can see, Thanksgiving weekend is also very much about shopping!

Many stores have begun opening on Thanksgiving night for their holiday discounts, something that many people do not like. (You can read more about that opinion in this article here.)

Do you have more to add about Thanksgiving?
Or do you have questions about it?
Let me know! 
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