The meaning of Thanksgiving runs deeper than food, football and fiesta – it’s the most historical event in the American calendar
You’ll know the holidays are nigh in Malaysia when schools officially go on break during year-end. In America, the holidays traditionally kick off with the best of food, football and favourite people, otherwise known as a day of Thanksgiving. So important is the occasion to Americans that a majority of them celebrate it to Christmas!
This historical festival that falls on the fourth Thursday of November (26 November this year) is also the oldest holiday in America, dating back to the 1600s. Religious refugees from England, or ‘pilgrims’ started the ball rolling by throwing a harvest feast and inviting local Native Americans, in celebration of a successful harvest. Previous year’s crops had failed, resulting in starvation of half the pilgrims in winter, but the local Wanpanoag tribe came to their aid the following year, teaching them how to grow beans, squash and corn, and how to fish. The first Thanksgiving was a three-day feast that included lobster, cod, deer and goose.
You’re probably wondering where the all-important turkey comes into the picture, and so did we: In 1961 a turkey hunt that took place before the Thanksgiving dinner was recorded, while another theory conveys how as a native bird to North America, the turkey was eventually embraced to symbolise the festival.
Now that you’ve gotten acquainted with key facts of the major holiday, cosy up to Thanksgiving with a rundown of the delicious, fun and exorbitant (Black Friday!) features to it.
The glorious food
The centrepiece of every American family’s table on this day is turkey with all the trimmings. Whole turkeys are stuffed and roasted, and accompanied by traditional dishes centred on sweet potatoes, pumpkin and corn. Popular recipes are mashed, candied sweet potatoes sometimes baked with marshmallow toppings, and corn bread. The spread is then customarily rounded off with pumpkin pie. Autumn fruit are also abundant throughout the meal, such as cranberries, fruit jams and apples.
Parades and the paraphernalia
When the Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, they make a grand show out of it by way of the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade. The first parade started in 1924 and since then, has become a yearly spactacle. Many of Macy’s employees were first-generation immigrants who wanted to celebrate the American Thanksgiving holiday like how they would celebrate in Europe. The first parades used live animals from Central Park Zoo, and only in 1927 was the first suspended blimp introduced in the shape of Felix the Cat. This year’s parade will begin its six-mile course from 77th Street and Central Park West in Manhattan, onto to Macy’s Herald Square. Millions of spectators will enjoy performances by marching bands, dance troupes, musicians, and celebrity appearances, aside from the helium-pumped, giant-size balloons in all shapes and sizes, and extravagant floats.
Like Boxing Day is to the British, so is football to the Americans on this day. Judging from the magnitude of the nation’s obsession towards football, Thanksgiving was once dubbed by a reporter as “a holiday granted by the State and the Nation to see a game of football.” The first football championship was held on Thanksgiving Day in 1976, and the National Football League, colleges and high schools have carried out the tradition every weekend since then, making it one of the longest held Thanksgiving customs, and among the biggest events in the football calendar.
The Presidential reprieve
As a gesture of gratitude to over 50 million turkeys that gave their lives for Thanksgiving dinners, the President grants one lucky turkey an official presidential reprieve observed since 1940s that started with two prized turkeys. The time-honed photo op now sees a 50-pound turkey pardoned in the White House Rose Garden, made official in 1989 by George HW Bush, although the first occasion was carried out by John F Kennedy, as documented in 1963. The lucky bird is then safely carted off to Mount Vernon to live out the rest of its life.
The biggest shopping day of the year, Black Friday
The day after Thanksgiving is recognised as the most exorbitant shopping day of the year. Roughly 249 million shoppers are known to descend the towns on shopping sprees that amount to an average of USD $ 380.95 per shopper. Multiple theories surround the origin of Black Friday; one of them recorded in 1961, Philadelphia, to describe the wild traffic to downtown stores the day after Thanksgiving. Another theory was that in 1981, the media coined the phrase to describe the mad shopping spree that resulted in retailers earning large sums of profit – positive amounts are printed in black ink, also known as “into the black”.
Season of gratitude
There’s no better occasion to observe the namesake of the Thanksgiving celebration. Before the dinner, families gather around the table in prayer, and take turns naming what they are most thankful for in their lives. Thanksgiving has also spurred the modern ‘Friendsgiving’, or Thanksgiving parties people host for their most cherished friends.