A national holiday in the USA since 1941, Thanksgiving commemorates a harvest festival celebrated by the Pilgrim Fathers in 1621, when the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast.
The holiday is held on the fourth Thursday of November, the day before Black Friday.
While Thanksgiving is one of the biggest events in the American calendar, for us Brits it’s always been a little bit of a mystery.
We’ve taken on Black Friday in all its capitalist glory – should we be lobbying for a national holiday to celebrate Harvest Festival?
Perhaps we’ve picked the wrong US traditions to adopt – Halloween is also becoming bigger and bigger in this country, but is teaching our children that it’s okay to knock on strangers doors and ask for “candy” really right? Furthermore, we also tell them it’s perfectly acceptable to play “tricks” on those who choose not to participate in this made up holiday. Surely not the lessons we should really be teaching?
As the US became more urban and family members began to live farther apart, Thanksgiving became a time to gather together. The holiday moved away from its religious roots to allow migrants of every background to participate in a common tradition.
So surely the much more wholesome, family celebration of a successful harvest is more appropriate, and because Thanksgiving isn’t based in any religion – it could be an opportunity to all get together and give thanks for everything we love and are grateful for. Friends, family, neighbours or pets. And what is worth celebrating more than that?
Thanksgiving Day football games, beginning with Yale versus Princeton in 1876, enabled fans to add some rowdiness to the holiday. And in 1924 the first Macy’s Christmas parade in New York was launched by employees, featuring animals from Central Park Zoo to signify the launch of the Christmas shopping season – hmm we’re back to Capitalism…
Today this holiday originally associated with Pilgrims and Native Americans, has now come to symbolise intercultural peace, America’s opportunity for newcomers, and the sanctity of home and family.
In the UK we celebrate Harvest Festival, this takes place on Sunday in late September and is celebrated in a very understated British way. But our Harvest Festival is an ancient festival of thanksgiving that celebrates a successful harvest for farmers across the country.
Perhaps we can adopt the approach of Sarah Josepha Hale, when Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday, it was thanks to her years of lobbying. And her other claim to fame was that she wrote the nursery rhyme, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”
The Turkey and the American holiday
- 91% of Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving day – that’s 46 million turkeys.
- The heaviest turkey on record, according to the Guinness Book of Records, weighed 86 pounds.
- Only male turkeys, called toms, gobble. Females, called hens, cackle.
- Why is it called a turkey? Hundreds of years ago the Spaniards brought turkeys to Europe, they were domesticated in England by 1534 and since the birds were imported by Turkish merchants, the English called them turkeys.
- Thanksgiving initiated the creation of the ready meal. In 1953, Swanson had so much extra turkey (260 tons) that a salesman told them they should package it onto aluminium trays with other sides like sweet potatoes — and the first TV dinner was born!
And finally keeping to our roots in freight, we can report that Thanksgiving is the busiest US holiday of the year for vehicular travel as family members get together. So for speedy delivery of your goods across the USA at this time of year, plan ahead or consider Air Freight options.