When is thanksgiving?

HotbotBy HotBotUpdated: June 20, 2024

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.

Thanksgiving in the United States

In the United States, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. This date was codified by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941, who signed a bill into law making the fourth Thursday in November the official date for the holiday. Before this, the date varied by state and was not uniformly observed.

Historical Context

The origins of Thanksgiving in the United States trace back to 1621, when the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Native Americans shared a harvest feast in Plymouth, Massachusetts. This event is often regarded as the "First Thanksgiving," although it was not initially intended to be an annual celebration. The Pilgrims had endured a harsh winter and were grateful for the successful harvest, which was aided by the indigenous people.

Modern Traditions

Today, American Thanksgiving is marked by a variety of customs:

  • Family Gatherings: Families come together to share a meal, often traveling significant distances to be with loved ones.
  • Feasting: The traditional meal typically includes turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie.
  • Parades: The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City is one of the most famous, featuring large balloons, floats, and performances.
  • Football: Watching NFL games is a popular activity on Thanksgiving Day.
  • Giving Thanks: Many families take time to express gratitude for the blessings in their lives.

Thanksgiving in Canada

Canadian Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday of October. This date is associated with the end of the harvest season and has roots in both European and indigenous traditions.

Historical Context

Canadian Thanksgiving can be traced back to 1578 when English explorer Martin Frobisher held a ceremony of thanks in Newfoundland to celebrate surviving his journey through the Northwest Passage. Additionally, French settlers in New France in the early 17th century also held feasts of thanks. Over time, these traditions merged and evolved into the modern Canadian Thanksgiving.

Modern Traditions

Canadian Thanksgiving shares many similarities with its American counterpart but also has distinct differences:

  • Family Gatherings: Canadians also prioritize family gatherings and shared meals.
  • Feasting: The meal often includes turkey, stuffing, and pie, but regional variations are common.
  • Outdoor Activities: The earlier date in October often allows for outdoor activities like hiking and enjoying the fall foliage.
  • Football: The Canadian Football League (CFL) holds the Thanksgiving Day Classic games.
  • Giving Thanks: Expressions of gratitude are an essential part of the celebration.

Thanksgiving Around the World

While Thanksgiving is most closely associated with the United States and Canada, other countries have their own versions of harvest festivals and days of thanks:


In Germany, Erntedankfest, or the "Harvest Thanksgiving Festival," is celebrated in late September or early October. It is primarily a religious holiday, marked by church services and parades. Unlike American and Canadian Thanksgiving, it does not have a fixed date and varies by region.


Japan celebrates Kinrō Kansha no Hi, or "Labor Thanksgiving Day," on November 23. This holiday is rooted in ancient harvest festivals and has evolved to honor workers and express gratitude for labor and production.

The Netherlands

In the Netherlands, some people celebrate a Thanksgiving service on the same day as American Thanksgiving. This tradition is observed in Leiden to commemorate the Pilgrims who lived there before sailing to the New World.

Unique Thanksgiving Facts

Thanksgiving is rich in history and tradition, and there are many lesser-known facts about the holiday:

  • Thanksgiving Proclamations: George Washington issued the first national Thanksgiving proclamation in 1789. Abraham Lincoln, in 1863, proclaimed a national day of "Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens," setting the precedent for the holiday as it is known today.
  • Turkey Pardoning: The tradition of pardoning a turkey by the President of the United States began with President John F. Kennedy in 1963, although it was more formally established by President George H.W. Bush in 1989.
  • TV Dinners: The first Swanson TV dinner was created in 1953 as a way to use up leftover Thanksgiving turkey.
  • Black Friday: The day after Thanksgiving is known as Black Friday, marking the beginning of the Christmas shopping season with significant sales and deals.

Thanksgiving in Popular Culture

Thanksgiving has made its way into popular culture through various mediums:

  • Movies: Films like "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving," "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," and "Home for the Holidays" have become staples of the holiday season.
  • Television: Many TV shows have iconic Thanksgiving episodes, such as "Friends," "The Simpsons," and "Gilmore Girls."
  • Music: While not as prevalent as Christmas music, songs like "Alice's Restaurant" by Arlo Guthrie are associated with the holiday.

Thanksgiving, whether celebrated in November or October, is a time for family, gratitude, and reflection. The holiday's rich history and diverse traditions offer a window into the cultural values and historical experiences of those who celebrate it. As the dinner table fills with warmth and the air with the aroma of a feast, the essence of Thanksgiving remains a cherished moment of togetherness and thanks, no matter where or how it is observed.

Related Questions

What is 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.

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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.

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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.

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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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