So you've moved or are planning to move to the US and you keep hearing about “Thanksgiving”. What's it all about? How do you do it properly? And what are the features that make it such a beloved holiday in the United States? Well here's everything you need to know about turkey day!
To start, here's what I thought it was going to be like before my first “Friendsgiving”, and here's my debrief right after! But what have I learned in the last few years of being in America?
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday in the United States. That's what I've learned.
I'm still big into Christmas (and now the Jewish High Holy Days as well with my new family), but there's really nothing like a whole day dedicated just to being together, sharing food, and sharing stories. Not to mention I enjoy a spot of football and beer too, which really fits in well with the whole theme of the day.
What's the story behind Thanksgiving?
The story goes that the first Thanksgiving was a celebration of harvest when the Pilgrims invited the Native Americans to a big feast back in 1621.
I think it's important that you know this is the story told by most and how the holiday is celebrated in popular culture but it's also very important that you know that there are more than a few issues with the story that you should be aware of (I mean, really the whole thing isn't accurate or honest at all).
Please do have a read of “Everything You Learned About Thanksgiving Is Wrong” by Maya Salem at the New York Times, it's important reading, and will keep you informed of what to know throughout the day.
What does Thanksgiving look like for most people?
The theme of the day is… Wait for it… Giving thanks! You come together with family and friends and you give thanks for the fact that you can all be there in one place.
You don't normally see that many gifts, and that's why I think it's an especially lovely holiday. It's not about something other than the people.
As a tradition, many go around the table before eating to announce something they are thankful for from the previous year, or right there and then. This is nice, and we did this at my first Thanksgiving with friends, but it's not necessarily an every-family thing, so don't worry too much about getting your lines ready.
Thanksgiving food, what you need to know
Lots of food is shared, and the food itself really seems to be the secondary theme of the day:
People love a big turkey as the centerpiece of the meal.
Cooking a whole turkey is difficult, but don't worry, there's always the Butterball Hotline in case you have questions.
If the West Wing taught me anything it's that you should cook your stuffings before… stuffing..
Stuffing is important, and so is gravy and cranberry sauce.
But it's not really stuffed inside the turkey in many cases. For lots of Thanksgiving “dinners” that I've seen, it's served in a dish and contains lots of delicious nuts and seasoning, but it's not always stuffed (the things you learn).
But the real champion of a lot of shows is the pumpkin pie.
This one really threw me because I'd never had a pumpkin pie. It's pretty tasty, but not really my favorite thing. You'll find lots of other desserts and pies included in the day if you don't like pumpkin pie (apple for me, every day).
Games and time together
Football is on TV, so you're going to find some of the audience want to sit and watch football, and then there's probably the younger crowd who want to go out and play.
One thing I had not accounted for, at all, in my first few Thanksgivings was how cold it was going to be! Christmas lunch in Australia is a toasty affair, but you're going to need to get ready to put on and take off layers constantly over Thanksgiving day if you're headed outside to play.
Thanksgiving without family
If you don't have family, or don't have a family close by, a lot of people do “Friendsgiving” or an “Orphans”. Thanksgiving” so that you can celebrate in a similar fashion with friends. This is what I did in my first year and it was one of the most fun things I've ever done since moving.
In many of these, you will be required to bring a plate of food to share, and probably something to drink too, be sure to check what you should bring!
What else happens on Thanksgiving?
Fun fact: More than 50 million turkeys are served up in the US every year for Thanksgiving and this year there's likely to be a shortage so get your turkey orders in early.
Ooh and finally, everyone yells HAPPY THANKSGIVING at each other!