Thanksgiving - 11 facts about the American Harvest Festival

 Thanksgiving - the American Harvest Festival

Thanksgiving, the American Harvest Festival, is celebrated in the USA every year in November. Besides Christmas, Thanksgiving is among the most important holidays for every American. Since the American Harvest Festival differs significantly from the harvest festivals as we know them in Germany, we will present to you the 11 most important facts about the American holiday Thanksgiving.


Where is Thanksgiving celebrated?

The classic Thanksgiving is celebrated in all states of the USA and in Canada. In many other countries around the world, the equivalent harvest festival is celebrated. In Germany, for example, the harvest festival is celebrated on the first Sunday of October. Unlike in the USA and most parts of Canada, the harvest festival in Germany is not a public holiday. This is partly because the harvest festival in Germany is not given as much importance, while Thanksgiving in the USA is considered one of the most significant festivals of the year.


When is Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving is not celebrated on a specific, fixed date in the USA. The so-called Thanksgiving Day always falls on the fourth Thursday of November. In 1865, Thanksgiving was celebrated on the first Thursday of November due to a proclamation by President Andrew Johnson. Four years later, in 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant chose the third Thursday as Thanksgiving Day. In all other years until 1939, Thanksgiving was celebrated on the last Thursday of November, as initially established by the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.

In 1939, the National Retail Dry Goods Association wanted to extend the Christmas shopping season and exerted pressure on the American president. As a result, Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving Day one week earlier to the penultimate Thursday of the month. A similar request had been made by the association in 1933, but it was rejected at that time because Roosevelt believed the change could cause too much confusion. In 1939, there was a real chaos surrounding Thanksgiving. The change in the Thanksgiving Day only applied to the District of Columbia and federal employees. It was assumed that the governors of the other states would follow the state proclamation for the same day. Instead, that year, 23 out of 48 states celebrated Thanksgiving on November 23rd, while 23 states celebrated the American Harvest Festival on November 30th. Additionally, Texas and Colorado both declared both Thursdays as holidays. After two years of confusion and numerous complaints, President Roosevelt signed a law to establish Thanksgiving Day as the fourth Thursday of November. To ensure that future presidents could no longer influence the planning of Thanksgiving Day, Congress passed a law stating that the Thanksgiving Day can fall on the last Thursday in five out of seven years. Thus, Thanksgiving continues to be celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November to this day.


Why is Thanksgiving celebrated?

The history of Thanksgiving is not entirely clear, and the exact origin of the festival is still debated. Most Americans believe that the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock, together with the Native Wampanoag Indians, celebrated a three-day harvest festival as a gesture of thanks. Without the help of the indigenous people, the European settlers about 400 years ago might not have survived the harsh winter. The Indians showed the Europeans how to grow corn and fertilize fields, helping them adapt to the new land. According to legend, the settlers and the Wampanoag people celebrated the very first Thanksgiving together.


Thanksgiving Origin - When Was It First Celebrated?

In the year 1620, brave emigrants set out for America in order to pursue a better life. In their homeland, many had no food and no work, and they hoped to start anew in America. In Plymouth, a port city in southwestern England, numerous people boarded the Mayflower ship to sail to America. The journey across the Atlantic proved to be very challenging, as many emigrants did not survive the voyage. The reason was the numerous diseases that could easily spread on board. Even when the emigrants arrived in America, things did not get much better. The settlers struggled with the climate and the unfamiliar animal and plant life that they didn't know from their homeland. This led to serious illnesses once again, claiming the lives of some people. Other settlers, in turn, died from hunger and weakness. The Wampanoag Indian tribe became aware of the settlers' suffering and showed them how to survive in their new home. As a gesture of thanks, both parties celebrated the first Thanksgiving festival together in the year 1621. This is still considered the birth of Thanksgiving Day.


What Is the Tradition of Thanksgiving?

On Thanksgiving Day in the USA, it's a tradition for the whole family to gather and host a grand feast. It's not uncommon for many Americans to travel across the USA to spend Thanksgiving and the following weekend with their families. One of the key customs is the Thanksgiving prayer at the table, usually led by the head of the family. In many families, however, each person present takes a turn revealing what they're thankful for, what has deeply moved them in the past, and their wishes for the future. As Thanksgiving is a day of "giving thanks," many Americans also help those less fortunate. For example, they donate food to homeless and needy individuals. Many families also make it a tradition to watch football on TV together in the afternoon. The teams "Detroit Lions" and "Dallas Cowboys" are always part of this tradition. The Thanksgiving Parade in New York is also popular, and many families watch it live on TV. The parade traditionally starts at 77th Street in New York and proceeds west along 6th Avenue, ultimately ending at Macy's department store. Many Americans take the Friday after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday, off work as it officially marks the start of the Christmas shopping season. This way, they can spend the extended weekend with friends and family.


What Is Eaten on Thanksgiving?

On Thanksgiving, a stuffed turkey is typically the centerpiece on the lavishly set table in American families. The traditional stuffing for the turkey consists of bread, onions, celery, eggs, parsley, and various spices. However, there are numerous variations; for instance, turkeys are also often stuffed with apricots and bacon, or with apples and rice. Patrick Ryan demonstrates in his video how to prepare the perfect Thanksgiving turkey.

In addition to the main course, there is, of course, a variety of side dishes. Particularly popular are sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes, green vegetables like peas, beans, or Brussels sprouts. These are often served with a delicious cranberry sauce, which is also available in our shop. As an appetizer, a corn soup is often served on Thanksgiving. For dessert, many families enjoy pumpkin pie – a delicious pumpkin cake. However, apple pie and pecan pie (here's the recipe) are also very popular on Thanksgiving. As you can see, there is a wide variety of dishes and treats. It's almost expected to ask for seconds. However, typically, there's still a lot of food left over. The so-called "leftovers" are consumed in the following days. Did you know that the "leftover" food is often even more popular than the dishes on Thanksgiving itself? Many Americans make turkey sandwiches from the remaining turkey. And of course, the delicious cranberry sauce shouldn't be missing.


How Many Turkeys Are Eaten on Thanksgiving?

Every year in the USA, about 46 million turkeys are consumed. With a population of about 330 million, this means there's roughly one turkey for every seven people. However, not all turkeys are eaten! The so-called National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation has now become a tradition at the White House. During this event, a live turkey is presented to the president. Since 1989, it has been a tradition for the acting US president to pardon the turkey (and the alternate turkey) on Thanksgiving. During their terms, both George W. Bush and Barack Obama pardoned 16 turkeys each.


How Important Is Thanksgiving to Americans?

As mentioned earlier, Thanksgiving is one of the most important holidays for Americans, right alongside Christmas. Thanksgiving is almost as significant to the American people as Independence Day (Fourth of July) on July 4th. Thanksgiving is the day when money and work take a back seat, and friends and family take center stage. Hardly any other country in the world celebrates the harvest festival as elaborately as the USA does. This is also due to the Americans' ardent patriotism. In the USA, there is particular pride in the long-past important historical events, customs, and traditions that are often centuries old.


Black Friday and Thanksgiving

Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving in the USA. It marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. Black Friday focuses on significant retail discounts aimed at stimulating consumption. Since Friday is usually taken off work due to Thanksgiving, creating an extended weekend of sorts, many Americans use the day to complete their early Christmas shopping. Many stores open in the early hours of the morning. It's common for many people to wait in long lines outside stores during the night to secure coveted bargains. Economically, Black Friday serves as a critical indicator for the holiday shopping season in the USA.
The origin of the term "Black Friday" is not definitively established. The following explanations are the most plausible and popular:

  • The name derives from the fact that the large crowds on the streets and in the stores appear as a single black mass from a distance.
  • Black Friday is considered the most lucrative day of the year, where retailers have the opportunity to get out of the red and start writing black, positive numbers.

The term "Black Friday" should not be confused with "Black Thursday," the day of the stock market crash in New York in October 1929. Due to the time difference in Europe, the crash day fell on a Friday, known as "Black Friday," while in the USA, it is referred to as "Black Thursday."


Thanksgiving in Canada

While Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November in the USA, Canadian Thanksgiving Day is observed on the second Monday of October. This is because in the northern Canada, the harvest is collected earlier than in the USA.

In most places in Canada, Thanksgiving is a public holiday, making it one of the popular long weekends of the year. Similar to the USA, various dishes grace Canadian tables. Stuffed turkey, boiled ham, sweet potatoes, and a variety of desserts ensure that no one goes hungry on Canadian Thanksgiving Day. Like in the USA, Thanksgiving in Canada is a huge family celebration, where friends and families gather for a wonderful shared evening. Depending on the region, there are various parades and sporting events accompanying the Canadian harvest festival.


Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade takes place every year on Thanksgiving in New York City and is one of the longest-standing holiday parades in the USA. The three-hour parade is hosted by the Macy's department store and draws massive crowds of spectators each year. Additionally, the event is shown live on television and watched by millions of Americans.

The Thanksgiving procession by Macy's department store is known for its colorfully decorated floats, brass bands, cheerleaders, and dance groups. However, the parade is famous for its abundance of balloons featuring well-known comic book heroes and toy characters. Each year, there are several giant balloons that capture all the attention. Balloons of characters such as Charlie Brown, Spider-Man, Olaf from Frozen, Hello Kitty, Sonic the Hedgehog, Snoopy, Mickey Mouse, Scooby-Doo, and Shrek have been featured as giant balloons in recent years, delighting not only children but everyone at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.