Halloween has passed, the daylight hours are getting shorter and shorter, and the weather has turned colder. Every American knows that this means one very important thing: Thanksgiving is coming! Many students are curious about the origins and the traditions of Thanksgiving and we are happy to share this information with them.

The Origins of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is primarily an American holiday (although it is also celebrated in Canada) and is held on the fourth Thursday of every November. The holiday was started when 53 American settlers (called Pilgrims) had a big feast with 90 Native Americans to celebrate the Pilgrims’ safe journey over the Atlantic Ocean. The holiday has been an official country tradition since 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln named the day an official American holiday.

Thanksgiving Dinner Turkey
A typical Thanksgiving meal! Green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, turkey with cranberry sauce, and rolls.

Thanksgiving Foods

The main tradition of Thanksgiving is the large meal. What is served? It depends on the house! Each family has different recipes and traditions for Thanksgiving dinner, but here are some staples that you will probably see at most Thanksgiving tables:


Most Americans choose to eat a large, roasted turkey for Thanksgiving. It is also popular to serve at Christmastime.

If the celebration is really big, then some families will also serve another meat, like ham or beef.


A mixture of bread, herbs, and spices is stuffed into the turkey. After the turkey is finished cooking, the stuffing is scooped out and served in a separate bowl. It is very juicy and flavorful!


Some families also choose to have “dressing”, which is like stuffing but is not baked inside the turkey. Instead, it is cooked in a separate dish. Dressing is a little more dry than stuffing because it does not have the juices from the turkey.

Mashed Potatoes

Everyone loves mashed potatoes! Many families also make a gravy from the bits of turkey that fell onto the bottom of the roasting pan.

Cranberry Sauce

This tart fruit sauce is a great addition to the very mild flavor of turkey (and is really good on bread rolls).


Many families serve yams, which look like orange potatoes and are very sweet. An old recipe that some families still use requires you to bake the yams with marshmallows, which makes the dish even sweeter.

It is a joke in many families that some family members REALLY hate yams . . . but do not be discouraged: try them! You might be one of the people who loves this sweet dish.

Green Beans/Green Bean Casserole

Some serve green beans, which can be cooked many different ways: boiled, sauteed, or cooked into a casserole. The recipes vary! For green bean casserole, a layer of green beans are mixed with mushrooms and a thick, white sauce or soup: the mixture is topped with fried onions and baked. The result is a crunchy, sweet top and then soft green beans underneath.

Pumpkin Pie

This delicious pie MUST be served at each Thanksgiving table! Make sure to top your slice of pie with some whipped cream. Most families also serve another dessert, like apple pie, for dessert.


Photo from Macy’s.com. Photo originally from Business Wire.

Thanksgiving Traditions

Just like the menu, the traditions of each family are different at Thanksgiving. Many families watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which is on television in the morning, to see celebrities sing and dance on beautifully decorated floats. Most families also take time to talk about what they are thankful for before the meal is eaten.

Another Thanksgiving tradition is Black Friday. Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving and it is the busiest shopping day of the year. Many American wake up VERY early (sometimes at 2 or 3 in the morning!) to get to the stores early and take advantage of the incredible sales. The last few years, these sales have also been online, so recently a lot of families have chosen to stay at home and sleep in . . . and then shop in the comfort of their pajamas on Friday morning.

As a backlash to this consumer-related “tradition,” people began “Small Business Saturday.” In this shopping day, customers visit only the small, local shops and support these businesses rather than the large corporations that dominate Black Friday.

The newest “tradition” is “Cyber Monday,” where many stores offer online shopping deals. What will Tuesday be named? Only time will tell . . .