Thanksgiving – one of the biggest events in the American calendar – is now upon us, and yet the most exposure Britain gets to the holiday is by watching US television series’ Thanksgiving-themed episodes.
The American version of the holiday was originally celebrated in the United States to mark a day of giving thanks for the harvest and the blessings of the past year.
Yes, there’s the turkey and candied yams; there’s an annual parade and people either watch or play a football game – but there’s a lot of reason behind these fun and delicious traditions.
If you are wondering, how did this day become so important? Why does the president pardon a turkey and what on earth is ‘ambrosia’? Here is everything you need to know about Thanksgiving.
When is Thanksgiving 2022?
This year, Thanksgiving is on November 24. The American celebration always takes place on the fourth Thursday in November – the day before Black Friday.
It traditionally kicks off the ‘holiday season’ in the United States and the day was set in stone by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939, with it later being approved by Congress in 1941. FDR changed it from Abraham Lincoln’s designation as the last Thursday in November (because there are sometimes five Thursdays in the month).
While Britons think of it as a warm-up for the Yuletide period, many Americans think it of it as just as important as Christmas.
In fact, more people in the US celebrate Thanksgiving than they do Christmas. Thanksgiving Day is a secular holiday in a country that officially separates church and state so this probably makes sense.
However, while the US Thanksgiving is the most well-known, it isn’t the original: it was first celebrated by the arctic explorer Martin Frobisher in 1578 in Canada – more than 40 years before the Pilgrim fathers arrived in the New World. Canadians now celebrate a separate Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October.
The history of Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving Day can be traced back to the 1621 celebration at the Plymouth Plantation, where the religious refugees from England known popularly as the Pilgrims invited the local Native Americans to a harvest feast after a particularly successful growing season.
The previous year’s harvests had failed and in the winter of 1620, half of the pilgrims had starved to death. Luckily for the rest, members of the local Wampanoag tribe taught the Pilgrims how to grow corn, beans and squash (the Three Sisters); catch fish, and collect seafood.
There are only two contemporary accounts of the 1621 Thanksgiving, but it’s clear that turkey was not on the menu. The three-day feast included goose, lobster, cod and deer.
‘The National Thanksgiving Proclamation’ was the first formal proclamation of Thanksgiving in America. George Washington, the first president of the United States, made this proclamation on October 3, 1789.