Thanksgiving Day: origins and traditions of the most envied American holiday

Every year, on the fourth thursday of November, Americans celebrate Thanksgiving Day. For our Canadian friends, the holiday falls on the second monday of October. An all-American festivity, which is so famous all over the world (especially due to the incredible amount of American films that we always watch) that when November comes we would like to celebrate it too. But where does this holiday really come from and how is it traditionally celebrated?

Let’s start by saying that Thanksgiving Day, along with Christmas, Halloween and the Fourth of July (Independence Day), is one of the most important and heartfelt holidays for Americans. Hence the enormous interest in it. It was initially of religious origin but it is now considered secular.

Apparently, the first Thanksgiving Day was celebrated in November 1621 when the pilgrim fathers decided to dedicate a day to give thanks to God for their first harvest, one year after their arrival in Plymouth village. The pilgrim fathers had much to be grateful for. They were in fact the survivors of the many people that had embarked on the journey to the New World. Many died on the way and others didn’t survive the cold winter. It is said that it was a Native Americans tribe that saved them, as they taught them how to grow corn and raise turkeys. 

It was in 1789 that George Washington, the first president of the United States, proclaimed it a national holiday, after the custom had already taken root in the local culture. In 1863 Abraham Lincoln decreed that Thanksgiving had to be celebrated the last thursday of November. In 1939, Roosevelt decided to move up the celebration by a week, with the aim of boosting sales during the Great Depression. The initiative was not successful and the president himself signed a law stipulating that Thanksgiving Day would be marked on the calendar on the fourth or last thursday of November.

Tradition has it that on Thanksgiving Day we get together with family to share a rich lunch consisting of traditional dishes, to be enjoyed after giving thanks for what we received in the past year. The undisputed king is the stuffed turkey, which everyone cooks according to their own traditional recipe. It is often accompanied by gravy (a sauce made with juices of roasted meat), sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. A fun fact about the origin of the so American turkey is that it was actually offered by the Aztec peoples to the Spanish conquistadors when they arrived in the Americas, more than a century later it was then “re-imported” by the pilgrim fathers in Massachusetts.

One of the most anticipated events related to Thanksgiving Day is Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, organized by the famous New York department store chain. It is a huge parade of floats, with music, dances and colors among the Big Apple skyscrapers. Thanksgiving Day also officially marks the beginning of the Christmas period and Christmas shopping, also due to its proximity to Black Friday. 

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