Before the sleigh bells jingle in the United Kingdom, another famous holiday is celebrated in the United States.
Thanksgiving is arguably the most important holiday in the United States, observed in every state and involving some of the longest cross-country travels for family members.
The holiday, which was first observed in the mid-1800s, is about giving thanks rather than receiving gifts. Neighbours, relatives and friends come together in homes across the US, feasting on Turkey and Pumpkin Pie, and showing gratitude for their health, happiness and those around them.
But, why do Americans celebrate Thanksgiving? Does anywhere else celebrate - and how is it observed? Here’s what you need to know.
When is Thanksgiving in 2022?
Americans celebrate the holiday on the fourth Monday of November every year. This year, Thanksgiving takes place in the US on Thursday 24 November 2022. The day is also celebrated by many in Canada, Grenada, Saint Lucia, and Liberia.
Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving on the second Monday of October, as that is when the Canadian harvest would be complete.
Therefore, Canadians celebrated Thanksgiving on Monday 10 October in 2022. Thanksgiving is also always the day before Black Friday, the biggest retail sales of the year.
How did Thanksgiving start?
Thanksgiving Day originated as a harvest festival, with a huge feast being the centrepiece of celebrations.
The ‘First Thanksgiving’ can be traced back to 1621, at the Plymouth Plantation, where religious refugees from England, known as the Pilgrims, invited the local Native Americans to a harvest feast to celebrate their first successful harvest.
The Wampanoag, a North American Indian tribe, called a truce with the pilgrims who had settled on their land in 1620 and taught them how to grow corn, beans and squash, to catch fish, and collect seafood.
The 1621 celebration is believed to be the first shared feast since an end to unrest between the two groups.
What food was typical on Thanksgiving?
In the early days of Thanksgiving, Americans would spend days praying and feasting on the produce which was harvested, as a way of appreciating the successful year for crops and agriculture.
It is unlikely that the feast would have consisted of decadent desserts 400 years ago, instead they would have feasted on the likes of corn, venison and porridge as this was the most common and abundant harvest and game available.
What foods are served at a modern-day Thanksgiving dinner?
Today, Thanksgiving is synonymous with huge Turkey dinners, mash potatoes, macaroni cheese, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pies for dessert.
Well-known writer Sarah Josepha Buell Hale - also known as the ‘Godmother of Thanksgiving’ - campaigned to have thanksgiving made into a national day of celebration, and according to Time Magazine, she published recipes of turkey dinners, stuffing and pumpkin pie in the 1800s.
Turkey is thought to be included in the dinner as it is native to North America, and its size makes it perfect for large feasts.
Pumpkins, which are ready to be picked between September and November are also native to North America, making them the perfect sweet pie filling to enjoy at Thanksgiving.
It also helps to use up the abundance of pumpkins which grow in time for Halloween, as many will ripen right around mid-November.
When did Thanksgiving become a national holiday?
While Thanksgiving dinners and the traditions of the holiday date back to the 1600s, the it was President Abraham Lincoln who proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving in 1863.
He marked it as a national celebration and all presidents who succeeded followed suit.
Then, in 1941, the Congress proclaimed it a national holiday and president of the day Franklin D. Roosevelt formalised the fourth Thursday of November the official holiday, meaning the actual date of Thanksgiving celebrations changes every year.
How do Americans celebrate nowadays?
Nowadays, thanksgiving is celebrated with parades, families travelling across states to be together and enjoy TV marathons and sumptuous dinners.
Despite the traditions beginning as a religious, inherited festival, all nationalities, ethnicity and religions join in the celebrations.
As well as the food, Americans travel the length and breadth of the states to be with family. People travel for this national holiday more so than for Christmas, according to an AAA survey.
The annual Macy’s parade is also televised, with over 20 million viewers watching the three hour long parade and over 40 million tuning in at some point during the procession.
Gift giving is spared from the occasion, as thanksgiving isn’t akin to the materialistic giving-to-receive commercialisation Christmas has become.