To most non-Americans, Thanksgiving seems to be some sort of mini-Christmas holiday that every U.S. sitcom is contractually obliged to set an episode during – in which Americans eat turkey, watch the Macy’s day parade and generally lose track of the original meaning of being thankful. But how did it all start? And why is it just America who celebrates it?
So What The Hell Is Thanksgiving Anyway?
Thanksgiving is a holiday celebrated in the United States on the fourth Thursday of November which commemorates the moment when Calvinist Separatists, who had fled religious persecution in England, having suffered great hardships during their first winter in America threw a big party for the Native Americans who assisted the pilgrims by showing them which foods to eat and materials to use for building.
This story of grateful pilgrims and happy Indians is the one most often celebrated by Americans despite the fact that by the end of the 19th Century, most of those Indians were wiped out or interned on reservations. The Thanksgiving story itself, although there are accounts that it did happen, didn’t become universal until during the Civil War when it was suggested as a day to unify the country around a shared national myth.
Some historians suggest that instead of over-eating and farting into sofas while watching football, Americans would better honour Thanksgiving by having a day of quiet reflection and fasting over the crimes of their ancestors. It’s a testament to the whitewashing power of tradition that Americans are able to celebrate a brief story of shared humanity that preceded the genocide of a people – it’s sort of like the Nazis patting themselves on the back and fondly remembering the moment they handed the Jews a bar of soap.
How Is It Celebrated?
Since the Civil War and throughout the 20th Century, Thanksgiving has become a universally accepted national holiday during which American people through various traditions give thanks variously to God, to the harvest, to each other and to America – celebrating the complicated American melting pot – or, more accurately, melting cake in which ethnic groups are stratified throughout with WASPs at the affluent top, and African Americans in a kind of smudge at the base.
Eating Too Much Food While Watching Football And Parades
Like Christmas, Thanksgiving is celebrated by eating lots of unnecessarily wasteful food and drinking in the company of people who you actively choose not to see for the remainder of the year. The predominant food eaten across the country is turkey prepared with potatoes and seasonal vegetables, with the average meal clocking in at 3,000 calories. After dinner most Americans then enjoy watching American football, with the traditional game being between the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears.
Also held on Thanksgiving Day are parades, with the Macy’s one in New York being the most popular. Held by the department store since 1924, the Macy’s Parade winds its way through Manhattan at 9am EST every year, featuring balloons, floats and waving special guests there to promote something or other.
Ever year the President of the United States will officially pardon one turkey from being served on Thanksgiving, a tradition which goes back to 1963 when it was started by John F Kennedy. An estimated 50 million turkeys and several states’ death row inmates aren’t so lucky.