What is thanksgiving?

HotbotBy HotBotUpdated: June 21, 2024

Introduction to Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a national holiday celebrated primarily in the United States and Canada, marked by family gatherings, feasting, and a spirit of gratitude. While the origins and traditions of Thanksgiving vary between the two countries, the core values of thankfulness and togetherness remain consistent. This holiday, deeply rooted in history, embodies a blend of cultural, religious, and social customs that have evolved over centuries.

Historical Origins

United States

The American Thanksgiving traces its origins to the early 17th century. The most commonly cited "First Thanksgiving" took place in 1621 when the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony shared a feast with the Wampanoag Native Americans. This event was a celebration of the Pilgrims' successful harvest, thanks in part to the assistance of the Native Americans.


In Canada, Thanksgiving has different historical roots. The first Canadian Thanksgiving is often attributed to explorer Martin Frobisher, who held a small ceremony in 1578 to give thanks for his safe arrival in the New World. Over time, the holiday evolved to celebrate the harvest and other blessings of the past year.

Modern Celebrations and Traditions

United States

Thanksgiving in the United States is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. The day is marked by various traditions:

  • Feasting: The centerpiece of Thanksgiving Day is the feast, traditionally featuring roasted turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie.
  • Parades: Many cities host parades, with the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City being the most famous, featuring floats, marching bands, and giant balloons.
  • Football: Watching football is a common activity, with several NFL games played on Thanksgiving Day.
  • Family Gatherings: Families often travel long distances to reunite and spend the day together.


Canadian Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday of October. While similar to the American tradition, it has its unique aspects:

  • Feasting: Like in the U.S., Canadian Thanksgiving features a feast with turkey and other traditional foods, although the menu can vary regionally.
  • Outdoor Activities: Given the earlier date, Canadians often take advantage of the autumn weather to enjoy outdoor activities like hiking and visiting fall fairs.
  • Harvest Festivals: Many communities host harvest festivals, celebrating the bounty of the season with local produce, crafts, and entertainment.

Religious and Cultural Significance

While Thanksgiving has largely become a secular holiday, it retains religious and cultural significance for many people:

Religious Observances

In both the United States and Canada, some families begin their Thanksgiving celebrations with a prayer or a moment of gratitude, reflecting the holiday's origins as a time to give thanks for blessings received. Churches may hold special services, emphasizing themes of gratitude and community.

Cultural Integration

Thanksgiving has been embraced by various cultural and ethnic groups, each bringing their own customs and dishes to the holiday table. This fusion of traditions enriches the celebration and reflects the diverse fabric of society.

Economic and Social Impact

Retail and Commerce

Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the holiday shopping season in the United States, with Black Friday following the day after. This period is crucial for retailers, often accounting for a significant portion of their annual sales. In recent years, the rise of online shopping has also given prominence to Cyber Monday.


Thanksgiving is one of the busiest travel times of the year, with millions of people journeying to be with family and friends. Airports, train stations, and highways experience increased traffic, and travel logistics become a significant aspect of the holiday experience.

Niche Subtopics

Presidential Turkey Pardon

A unique American tradition is the Presidential Turkey Pardon, where the President of the United States pardons a live turkey, sparing it from being slaughtered for the Thanksgiving meal. This quirky custom has become a light-hearted annual event, complete with media coverage.


In recent years, the concept of "Friendsgiving" has gained popularity. This is a Thanksgiving celebration held with friends, either on the holiday itself or on a nearby date. It allows people to celebrate with their chosen family and has become particularly popular among young adults.


The day after Thanksgiving is often celebrated with leftovers. Many families look forward to creative dishes made from the remnants of the Thanksgiving feast, such as turkey sandwiches, soups, and casseroles.

Rarely Known Small Details

Mary Had a Little Lamb and Thanksgiving

Sarah Josepha Hale, the author of the nursery rhyme "Mary Had a Little Lamb," played a pivotal role in establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday in the United States. She campaigned for years, writing letters to presidents and other politicians, until President Abraham Lincoln finally declared it a national holiday in 1863.

The Original Menu

The menu of the first Thanksgiving in 1621 was quite different from today's traditional fare. Historical records suggest that the feast likely included venison, fowl (possibly turkey), fish, shellfish, corn, nuts, and berries, with no mention of pumpkin pie or cranberry sauce.

Thanksgiving in Space

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station have celebrated Thanksgiving in space, enjoying special meals prepared for the occasion. These meals help maintain a sense of normalcy and tradition, even when far from home.

Thanksgiving and the American Revolution

During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress proclaimed several days of thanksgiving to commemorate victories and events. These early proclamations contributed to the establishment of a unified national holiday.

Thanksgiving is a multifaceted holiday with deep historical roots and diverse modern practices. Its evolution from early harvest celebrations to a national day of gratitude showcases the adaptability and enduring significance of this cherished tradition. As Thanksgiving continues to be celebrated, it remains a day for reflection, unity, and appreciation of the blessings, both big and small, in our lives.

Related Questions

Why is thanksgiving celebrated?

Thanksgiving, a quintessential American holiday, finds its roots in the early 17th century. The celebration traces back to November 1621, when the Pilgrims, after enduring a harsh winter and reaping a bountiful harvest, held a feast to give thanks. The Pilgrims, English settlers who had sought religious freedom by sailing to the New World on the Mayflower, invited the Wampanoag Native Americans to join them in this three-day feast. This event is often romanticized as a harmonious gathering, symbolizing cooperation and gratitude, although the historical accuracy of this portrayal is subject to debate.

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When is thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving is a significant holiday celebrated in various countries, most notably in the United States and Canada. While the date varies between these countries, each nation's traditions and historical contexts give Thanksgiving its unique significance. Below we explore the origins, the specific dates, and the customs associated with Thanksgiving in each country.

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What day is thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving is a beloved holiday celebrated primarily in the United States and Canada. It is a time for families to come together, share a meal, and give thanks for the blessings of the past year. The date of Thanksgiving varies between the two countries and is rooted in historical events unique to each nation.

Ask Hotbot: What day is thanksgiving?

Why do we celebrate thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving is a cherished holiday in the United States, celebrated with a rich history, cultural significance, and traditions that have evolved over centuries. Understanding the reasons behind its celebration involves delving into its historical origins, the cultural and social aspects, and the modern interpretations that keep the tradition alive today.

Ask Hotbot: Why do we celebrate thanksgiving?