The great American holiday: a day full of family, friends, football (American), and most importantly, food. Americans spend weeks preparing for the bountiful feast that takes place on the fourth Thursday of every November, a chance to celebrate together and an excuse to eat ungodly amounts of Turkey. What Thanksgiving actually is and why Americans celebrate this gluttonous holiday is a mystery to many here in England. To be honest, even some Americans are unaware of the historical significance of this event and instead obsess over the commercialized focus of sport and food. The original Thanksgiving took place just under four centuries ago in 1621 when the Plymouth pilgrims and the Wampanoag Native Americans came together over a 3 day feast to celebrate the successful autumn harvest. However, it was not until 1863 in the midst of the US Civil War when Abraham Lincoln officially declared the last Thursday of November as Thanksgiving, a national holiday to be celebrated every year, as a day of thanks to God. Since then, the various traditions of Thanksgiving have stretched from survival celebrations to religious connotations and have morphed into a media-motivated, mass consumer market that propagates parades and stuffed turkeys as the hallmark picture of what it means to be grateful.
That being said (rather cynically I suppose), Thanksgiving is a lot of fun and an official week off of work and school. Its importance varies from family to family, as do most holidays, but on the whole it is one of the most celebrated events in the US with about 88% of Americans eating Turkey on the day- according to The National Turkey Federation (yes, that is a thing:http://www.nwtf.org/).
The traditions vary depending on the region but there are a few that are predictably practised throughout the nation:
- Eating Turkey: With turkey being the featured item on any meal table, Thanksgiving is commonly referred to as “Turkey Day”. Cooking a slow-roasted Turkey is an elaborate affair that takes days to prepare and up to 10 hours on Thanksgiving to roast. Here is a link to one of the many recipes of Turkey (http://food52.com/recipes/31910-slow-roasted-turkey) and for some top tips here is another helpful article (http://food52.com/blog/11648-top-turkey-tips)
- Watching American Football: At most ancient harvest festivals, people would compete in sports and play games to celebrate the happy occasion. In modern times, Americans will crowd together to watch multiple football matches on the day and will occasionally even play their own pick-up “turkey bowl” games with friends and family. Other popular sporting events include the Turkey Trot which is normally a 5K race organized by the local community to raise funds and donations towards providing festive meals and supplies to families in need.
- Breaking the wishbone: A tradition where two people grab hold of either end of the Turkey clavicle, commonly known as the wishbone, make a wish and then pull. Whoever ends up with the larger bit of bone has their wish granted.
- Thanksgiving Parade: Though most towns will usually hold their own Thanksgiving Day parade, the most famous and televised one is Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Beginning in the 1920’s, Thanksgiving began to be associated with the start of the Christmas holiday shopping season. Massive parades with helium balloons, floats, and music started to appear around the country to promote prosperity and entertainment. The department store Macy’s realized it was the perfect opportunity to celebrate the season as well as attract customers to their stores.
- Black Friday: The Friday following Thanksgiving Thursday is known as Black Friday and is the busiest shopping day of the year in the US. Though not an official holiday, it is a day that most Americans have off from work/school. Shops and retailers open incredibly early (in some cases at 12 AM though 4 to 6 AM is more standard) with ridiculous sales. Often there are stories of violent altercations as shopper’s scrabble and fight over the best deals at dawn. Lines wind around corners for blocks as people queue in front of stores before the doors open. This crazed shopping phenomenon gives a hint as to how Black Friday got its name: it is when retailers finally began to turn a profit or be “in the black” as opposed to operating “in the red” or at a loss as was done for most of the year. If you google Black Friday madness many disturbing articles pop up (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-25151956) giving interesting insight into the frenzied consumerist culture of Thanksgiving, a subtle darker undercurrent to an otherwise joyous occasion.
So, now for the most important part… the Thanksgiving Meal!
As a food oriented celebration, the Thanksgiving meal is the centrepiece of the entire day and what most people look forward to. A typical Thanksgiving meal consists of turkey (roasted, smoked, grilled, deep fried, crockpot), stuffing, home-made gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, and lots of pies (pecan, pumpkin, apple, etc.).
Though it may take a while to prepare, Thanksgiving is a glorious day filled with fond memories of quality time spent with loved ones and enjoying the simple pleasures of food and games. It is important to be grateful for what you have, and Thanksgiving gives many people an opportunity to dedicate an entire day to appreciating all that we have to be thankful for.
So, if anyone feels especially festive and wants to have a fun-filled, food obsessed Thanksgiving, I have provided my favourite foodie website to help you out with a few ideas and recipes for constructing your very own Thanksgiving menu this Thursday. Hope you enjoy, have a Happy Thanksgiving!