What is Thanksgiving? Meaning of the US holiday explained and why Americans celebrate it today

what is thanksgiving meaning of the us holiday explained and why americans celebrate it today

Many Americans in the US and beyond will be celebrating a massive day in the country’s calendar – Thanksgiving.

The holiday has fallen the third Thursday of every November since Abraham Lincoln proclaimed it a regular national day in 1863, meaning that Americans will celebrate the day on Thursday 24 November 2022.

Most people in the UK have a limited understanding of the festival, and those that do celebrate the holiday often hold images of happy pilgrims, friendly families and full dinner plates, however, Thanksgiving has a deep and contentious historic meaning.

What is Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving is an important holiday to many Americans, and for some it is more significant than Christmas Day, Hanukkah or Ramadan.

Thanksgiving celebrations centre around food – and more specifically – turkey. A 2021 government poll found that nine out of 10 Americans eat turkey during Thanksgiving.

Parades have also become a big part of the holiday. Among the largest in the country is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in New York City, which is held by the department store and attracts more than two million spectators every year – as well as a large television audience.

However, since the 70s, many Native Americans and protesters instead mark the holiday as a “National Day of Mourning” to commemorate those who lost their lives at the hands of the foreign settlers when America was colonised.

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Why do Americans celebrate Thanksgiving?

The origins of Thanksgiving can be traced to September 1620, when a small ship (about the size of a bus) called the Mayflower left its dock in England carrying 102 pilgrims seeking a new home where they could freely practise their faith.

They were drawn to America, then called the New World, by the promise of prosperity and the opportunity to own their own land.

In 1621, these colonists and Wampanoag Native Americans shared an autumn harvest feast that they had laboured together to produce – the first ever Thanksgiving celebration – in Plymouth, in modern-day Massachusetts.

It is said a Native American called Squanto was crucial to the survival of the pilgrims during their first year. He showed them how to grow corn, catch fish, avoid poisonous plants and extract sap from maple trees. He also helped them broker an alliance with the Wampanoag.

However, this was the only successful joining together of natives and colonists during this period, and many Native Americans believe Thanksgiving celebrations brush over a history which has often seen them persecuted and killed.

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