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Thanksgiving Traditions

Today is the last Thursday in November and all over the United States people will be on holiday celebrating Thanksgiving Day.

Here in the UK, I am taking a leaf out of our American cousins’ books and thinking about everything I am grateful for. It’s good to reflect on the little things in life that make up each day. Not every day is perfect by any stretch of the imagination but being thankful for what we’ve got helps us gloss over the ‘not so nice’ bits.

A short history of Thanksgiving

In 1621, Just a year after the pilgrims sailed from Plymouth to the New World on the Mayflower, Governor William Bradford arranged a feast in celebration of their first successful corn harvest. He invited the local, native North American people, the Wampanoag lead by chief Massasoit. This feast, not called thanksgiving at the time, lasted three days and is now remembered at America’s first Thanksgiving. The pilgrims had to wait a further two years for the next festival which celebrated the end of a severe drought in the summer of 1623.

This started the tradition of ad hoc days of fasting and feasting in New England until the Continental Congress designated ‘official’ days of thanksgiving each year. In 1789, it was George Washington who issued the first proclamation by the government of the U.S. in gratitude for the end of the country’s War of Independence
However, it was not until 1863 that Abraham Lincoln, petitioned for many years by the indomitable Sarah Josepha Hale (of Mary had a Little Lamb fame), that the last Thursday was established as the official Thanksgiving Day.

Thanksgiving traditions

The Pilgrims feast likely to have included duck, swan, goose, venison and pumpkin. Today, turkey remains the nation’s favourite with over 46 million being eaten at thanksgiving – that’s 88% of all Americans. Traditionally the bird is roasted but there is a trend towards deep-fried turkey. Best served with stuffing, cranberry sauce, roast potatoes, corn and sweet potatoes all finished off with a pumpkin pie.

As well as a feast, thanksgiving is known for its parades, particularly Macy’s In 1924, Macy’s, the world’s largest department store, put on a huge parade of floats thought to have been watched by over 250,000 people (although some estimates put that number as high as 2 million!). Now the Macy’s parade runs for two and a half miles and is dominated by huge inflatable models. It’s Macy’s gift to thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is also a day to play and watch American football. The University of Detroit Stadium hosted the first broadcasted Thanksgiving Day football game in 1934, pitting the Detroit Lions against the Chicago Bears and sparked a new tradition. The game was broadcast by a national network of radio stations and the game was so popular that the 26,000 tickets sold out in just a fortnight.

Thanksgiving marks the start of the Christmas shopping season, followed by Black Friday, known for bargains and Cyber Monday, the online shopping day. But for me, I will quietly reflect on all that I’m grateful for.

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