What Makes Thanksgiving Great

Thanksgiving – a Uniquely American Holiday

The first Thanksgiving celebration was in 1621 in Plymouth Colony, later becoming Massachusetts. The Pilgrim settlers, English refugees fleeing religious persecution, held a feast as an expression of gratitude for a successful harvest and the survival of their community. It was also a celebration of appreciation for the incredible generosity and fullness of spirit shown by the indigenous Wampanoag people.

The colonists would not have survived the first winter in the new world were it not for the food the tribe shared with the refugees from across the ocean. For those Native American people to display such compassion and kindness to those so different still shines like a beacon of light for almost 400 years! Through the centuries until today, refugees have followed that light-seeking safety and a new life.

A Thanksgiving History Lesson

Thanksgiving did not become an annual celebration until much later. It was not until 1863 that Abraham Lincoln, in an official expression of gratitude for the Union Army victory at Gettysburg, declared the last Thursday of November a national holiday. In 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a bill into law officially making the fourth Thursday in November the national holiday of Thanksgiving Day.

As Thanksgiving became increasingly popular through the years, it came to be synonymous with parades, football, turkey, and visits to grandma’s house.  Americans love Thanksgiving!  Let’s explore a few of the things we enjoy about this holiday. 

Time for Family and Friends

For most of us who work, the Thanksgiving holiday is a four-day weekend. Since the day after the holiday, now known as Black Friday, is also a holiday for most Americans, it is a good chunk of time to enjoy, relax, rejoice, connect with family and prepare for the quickly approaching holiday season. For many, shopping on the day following Thanksgiving is the kickoff to the shopping season and a day synonymous with fabulous bargains and deals on the most sought-after gifts. 

We’re Off to Grandma’s

Thanksgiving is an opportunity to bring families together, no matter the distance that separates them. It is the first visit home in the new school season, and I looked forward to by many first-year college students away from home and family for the first time. To share good food, pleasant feelings, and good memories with those you love, well, it doesn’t get any better! Is it any wonder Thanksgiving is the most traveled holiday of the year?

It's a Celebrate America’s Diversity

Since America is a melting pot, many families incorporate a specialty from their native country into the traditional Thanksgiving menu. I remember, as a young woman working in New York City, receiving an invitation to my roommate’s family celebration in Brooklynn. Her mother was Italian, her father was Puerto Rican, and there was such a mountain of food on the table I was surprised it didn’t collapse from the weight.

Homemade ravioli, meatballs, and lasagna sat alongside Puerto Rican rice with black beans, pastel, and mofongo. In the middle of the table was a large, perfectly roasted Turkey that no one ever carved! The hostess said it was the centerpiece and brought American authenticity to the celebration!  I saw that turkey as a symbol of America’s ability to unite those of different origins under one country and flag. 

After all these years, I remember this Thanksgiving vividly, not only because of the variety of food on the table. Living in New York City, it was my first Thanksgiving away from my family in Massachusetts. The fact that this family of immigrants welcomed a child of immigrants into their home and their family meant so much to me. It is these acts of unity and kindness that make America great, at least the country that I know. 

Food Preparation

Rather than viewing preparing the feast as a chore, many families incorporate cooking the meal as part of the celebration. Open a bottle of wine and gather everyone in the kitchen. Assign a task, and you create an opportunity to share recipes, family history, and stories of past Thanksgiving celebrations.

Let’s not forget that Thanksgiving is also the wonderful American eating Holiday! Yes, it is the one day of the year you are expected to overeat without feeling guilty for it. Also, calories consumed on Thanksgiving don’t count, so there is that as well. Everyone has their favorite dishes that only come around this one day of the year. For my family, it was the turkey and my grandmother’s homemade Apple and Pumpkin Pie.

Thanksgiving is a No-Pressure Holiday

Preceding Christmas by just a few weeks, it kicks off the holiday with no preparation that consumes weeks, no crowded stores, or consumerism on steroids. Only family and close friends, good food, wine, the sharing of good stories, and lots of laughter. A great meal followed by watching football, maybe a nap, a walk in the crisp air, and just being. Then there are at least two days of leftovers. Perfect!

Be Thankful and Share

Honoring the first Thanksgiving and remembering it is a day of thankfulness for the blessings and bounty we enjoy. We are lucky in America. Even though life could be better, most of us have a loving family, friends, more than enough food, a home, and a country that offered our ancestors great opportunities. What better expression of gratitude for all that we enjoy than to extend that same opportunity our forebears received to current refugees who have no home, no food, and no country, just like the Pilgrims of 400 years ago.

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