Why do we celebrate thanksgiving?

HotbotBy HotBotUpdated: June 29, 2024

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.

Historical Origins

The origins of Thanksgiving can be traced back to the early 17th century. The most widely accepted story involves the Pilgrims, a group of English settlers who arrived in North America aboard the Mayflower in 1620. They landed at Plymouth Rock, in present-day Massachusetts, seeking religious freedom and new opportunities.

After enduring a harsh winter where many perished, the Pilgrims received assistance from the Wampanoag people, a Native American tribe. The tribe taught them essential survival skills, such as how to grow corn, fish, and hunt. In the autumn of 1621, the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag celebrated a successful harvest with a feast, which is often considered the "First Thanksgiving."

Proclamations and Nationalization

While the 1621 celebration is often cited as the origin, Thanksgiving didn't become a national holiday immediately. Various colonies and states celebrated days of thanksgiving at different times. It wasn't until 1863, during the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday. Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November as a day of "thanksgiving and praise," aiming to foster unity and gratitude amidst the turmoil of war.

The date was later adjusted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939 and officially set as the fourth Thursday in November by Congress in 1941, creating the modern Thanksgiving holiday we recognize today.

Cultural and Social Significance

Thanksgiving holds deep cultural and social significance in American society. It is a time for families and friends to gather, share a meal, and express gratitude. The holiday symbolizes the values of cooperation, community, and thankfulness.

Family and Togetherness

One of the core aspects of Thanksgiving is the emphasis on family and togetherness. Many people travel long distances to reunite with loved ones, making it one of the busiest travel periods of the year. The holiday provides an opportunity for families to strengthen bonds, share stories, and create lasting memories.

Feasting and Tradition

The Thanksgiving meal is a central element of the celebration. Traditional dishes often include roast turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie. These foods have become symbolic of the holiday and reflect its historical roots. The act of sharing a meal fosters a sense of community and gratitude.

Gratitude and Reflection

Thanksgiving is also a time for reflection and expressing gratitude. Many people take the opportunity to reflect on the blessings in their lives and give thanks for their health, family, and prosperity. Some families have traditions of sharing what they are thankful for before the meal, reinforcing the holiday's focus on gratitude.

Modern Interpretations and Celebrations

Over the years, Thanksgiving has evolved to include various modern interpretations and celebrations. While the core values of gratitude and togetherness remain, new traditions and practices have emerged, adding layers of meaning to the holiday.

Parades and Public Events

One of the most iconic modern traditions is the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, held annually in New York City since 1924. The parade features giant balloons, floats, marching bands, and performances, drawing millions of spectators both in person and via television. It has become a symbol of American culture and a beloved part of the Thanksgiving celebration.

Football and Entertainment

Thanksgiving is also synonymous with football in the United States. The National Football League (NFL) hosts games on Thanksgiving Day, a tradition that dates back to 1920. Watching football has become a staple activity for many families, adding an element of entertainment to the holiday.

Acts of Charity and Giving Back

Another significant aspect of modern Thanksgiving is the emphasis on charity and giving back to the community. Many individuals and organizations engage in acts of kindness, such as volunteering at food banks, serving meals to the less fortunate, and participating in charity events. This practice reinforces the holiday's themes of gratitude and generosity.

Controversies and Criticisms

While Thanksgiving is widely celebrated, it is not without its controversies and criticisms. Some individuals and groups highlight the historical and cultural complexities associated with the holiday.

Indigenous Perspectives

For many Native Americans, Thanksgiving represents a period of mourning and reflection on the impact of European colonization. The arrival of settlers led to significant displacement, conflict, and suffering for indigenous communities. Some Native American groups observe a National Day of Mourning on Thanksgiving, honoring their ancestors and acknowledging the historical injustices they faced.

Commercialization and Consumerism

Thanksgiving has also faced criticism for its increasing commercialization. The holiday has become closely associated with Black Friday, a major shopping event that occurs the day after Thanksgiving. Critics argue that the focus on consumerism detracts from the holiday's original values of gratitude and togetherness.

Global Perspectives

While Thanksgiving is primarily an American holiday, similar celebrations of gratitude and harvest exist in other cultures around the world.


Canada celebrates its own Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October. The holiday, known as "Action de grâce" in French, has similar themes of gratitude and harvest. It originated in the early 17th century and became an official holiday in 1879.

Other Harvest Festivals

Many cultures have harvest festivals that share similarities with Thanksgiving. For example, the Mid-Autumn Festival in China and Chuseok in Korea celebrate the harvest and involve family gatherings and feasting. These festivals highlight the universal human appreciation for abundance and community.

Thanksgiving's rich tapestry of historical origins, cultural significance, modern interpretations, and global perspectives offers a comprehensive understanding of why we celebrate this cherished holiday. As with any tradition, its meanings and practices continue to evolve, reflecting the dynamic nature of human culture and society.

Ultimately, the reasons for celebrating Thanksgiving are as diverse as the people who observe it, allowing each individual to find their own meaning and significance in the holiday's enduring traditions.

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.

Ask Hotbot: Why is thanksgiving celebrated?

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.

Ask Hotbot: What is thanksgiving?

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?

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.

Ask Hotbot: When is thanksgiving?