Thanksgiving Traditions

How will you celebrate Thanksgiving this year?

What Does the Thanksgiving Holiday Mean To You?

For many Americans, Thanksgiving kicks off the holiday season. Even though retail stores have been decked out in holiday fare for several weeks already, the official shopping kick-off is the Friday after Thanksgiving—Black Friday. But for many of us, Thanksgiving has more meaning than a commercial binge of holiday shopping.

Usually I write my publisher’s note about how grateful we should be in this country, especially during the holiday season. This year I had an opportunity to discuss the true significance of Thanksgiving with Melanie Kirkpatrick, author of the newly released book, Thanksgiving: The Holiday at the Heart of the American Experience. The book is a great resource for Thanksgiving history, tradition, and even recipes. It includes primary source materials from many of our founding fathers and a letter from Abraham Lincoln declaring Thanksgiving to be celebrated on the last Thursday of November.

Regardless of what may be perceived, the meaning of Thanksgiving has not changed much since that first autumn celebration in 1621. It is still a time to gather with family and friends and be thankful. What is different is what we are thankful for. Recent immigrants may be much like the original Pilgrims and express thanks for the freedoms we have in the United States; those who experienced a natural disaster may be thankful for their survival; some are just thankful that we survived the latest presidential election.

When I first wrote this article we had just come out of one of the most contentious presidential elections,  little did I realize that 2020 would be far worse. And I am sure that Kirkpatrick hopes this Thanksgiving to begin the healing process as we come back together as a nation, is even more critical. Previously she commented that this will be a time when people can think about all the blessings we have as a nation and be thankful for our liberties, our country, and our freedoms. We need that hope even more today.

The book is a mini civics lesson; it covers 400 years of our history, starting with Kirkpatrick’s succinct account of the first Thanksgiving. Records show it truly was a friendly feast shared between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians. That first Thanksgiving would not have taken place without their generosity. The Wampanoag Indians taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn and survive in the harsh new climate. In 1621, this celebration foreshadowed the diverse, multicultural people we have become.

That tradition continues today. Kirkpatrick and I discussed her relationship with Newcomers High School in Queens, New York. Newcomers’ student body consists of immigrants who receive intensive education on English and American culture. She relayed stories of how many of these children came to America to get away from persecution, and they related to the story of the Pilgrims. Most of these kids are about to celebrate their first or second Thanksgiving and look forward to feasting on some of their favorite ethnic foods—the common ingredient being turkey. After all, it is Thanksgiving tradition.

We also spent time discussing other Thanksgiving traditions, like football. Lincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamation was in 1863 and the first football game was played in 1869, so the two grew up together. A more recent tradition is a 5K run called Turkey Trots. We welcome you to share your own Thanksgiving pastimes with us in the comments below.

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