American Holidays: Thanksgiving

The American Thanksgiving holiday is so much fun. We celebrate it every year on the fourth Thursday of November. It is a time when families get together, cook a big meal, and eat it.

Thanksgiving Feast

Thanksgiving is all about the feast, which is another name for a huge meal. The most common food at a Thanksgiving holiday feast is turkey. Americans buy whole turkeys from farms and supermarkets. They cook them in the oven for hours. Many families get together and only cook a single turkey. Turkeys weigh 25 to 35 pounds. So, one is usually enough to feed about 20 people.

In addition to turkey, people prepare and eat corn, squash, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes with gravy. For Thanksgiving dessert, we eat pumpkin pies, apple pies, and sometimes ice cream. All of this food is usually too much for one person to cook, so many people help out.

Most families will share the cooking. Each relative cooks part of the meal and their own home. I remember my mother boiling potatoes at our house. She would add butter, milk, salt and pepper to them and use a mixer to mash them. When they were smooth and creamy, she would put them in a big bowl and wrap a blanket around it. Then, we would bring them to my grandparents’ house. My aunts and uncles also brought their side dishes.

With so much food, everybody overeats. I have always eaten at least two plates full of food. With so many different foods to choose from, it’s hard to fit them all on one plate. Even when we eat so much, there are always lots of leftovers. For three or four days after Thanksgiving, we keep eating the same food. By Sunday, everybody is sick of turkey and gravy.

History of the Thanksgiving Holiday

The legend of Thanksgiving begins with two groups of people. The Pilgrims were religious radicals who had to leave England. They lived for a while in the Netherlands, but quickly started planning to settle the colonies in the “New World” (the Americas). Native Americans were people already living in the Americas. They had lived here for thousands of years before Europeans came.

In 1620, together with other passengers, the Pilgrims traveled across the Atlantic Ocean and landed in Massachusetts. The first winter they spent there was brutal. More than half of the people died from malnutrition and exposure to the cold weather.

The following spring, a Native American man named Squanto, from the Pawtuxet tribe, taught the English colonists how to plant corn and other vegetables. He also taught them where to fish and hunt beavers. Because of this, the Pilgrims and the other colonists had a very successful growing season.

Harvest Celebration

When the fall harvest season came, there was lot of food to eat. The first Thanksgiving holiday was held in 1621. It was a week-long harvest celebration. The Pilgrims were so happy and relieved that they were able to grow enough food for themselves. They celebrated with a three-day feast shared between the English colonists and Native American people from the Wampanoag tribe. The Wampanoag brought deer and lots of local seafood (fish, lobster, mussels). The English had just harvested fruit and vegetables, including pumpkins. They offered them as thanks to the Native American people who had taught them how to survive in their new world.

This legend narrates the partnership between Native Americans and Europeans. It demonstrates cooperation and friendship, and a mutually beneficial relationship. Unfortunately, the relationship was only good at first. As the years passed, English colonists expanded their use of the land and destroyed their friendship with local tribes. Just 50 years later, one of the deadliest wars in the history of the Americas occurred between the European colonists and the Native Americans.

Thanksgiving Holiday: Time with Family

The best thing about Thanksgiving is spending time with family. Usually in September or October, somebody calls up their mom or dad and starts to talk about Thanksgiving. The first thing the family needs to decide is where to have the meal. Some families have a longtime tradition; they always have Thanksgiving at the same house. Other families will host Thanksgiving in a different house every year, for variety. If they can’t decide, tradition says to go to the oldest people’s house (the grandparents).

Warm & Cozy

What I remember most is feeling warm and cozy. Since Thanksgiving is always toward the end of November, the weather is never great. It’s pretty cold and sometimes rainy or snowy in New York.

Traveling is part of the tradition. We were lucky to have always lived close to most of my family. Some people have to fly across the country to see their families. And they do; Thanksgiving is one of the busiest travel seasons in the US. For us, we would just get in the car and drive less than an hour away. It is nice to get bundled up in a warm coat, gloves, and a winter hat and go out into the cold November rain.

When we would arrive at my grandparents’ house, the windows were always fogged up from the heat of the wood-burning stove and all of my relatives moving around.

As a kid, my cousins and my sister and I had our own table. It’s hard to fit everyone together at one table. Nobody has a dining room table big enough. So, we sat at the “kid’s table”. As we got older, that never really changed.

Catching up

Starting with the most important, the three biggest holidays of the year for most people in the US are Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter. However, when you see your family at Thanksgiving, it’s been more than seven months since you’ve last seen them all in one place. So, there’s a lot of catching up to do.

I can recall always opening grandma’s door to the sound of twenty people having familiar conversations. It would be booming from the minute we arrived until everyone began eating. My uncles always talked about hunting and where new houses were being built. My aunts told stories about their kids and their work colleagues. Everybody discussed politics, even though they didn’t all agree.

My aunt Barbara Jean was always doing something cool. I remember when she used to do bicycle racing. My Uncle John told us about his experiences hiking different mountains in the Adirondack High Peaks. He was a 46-er, which meant he had climbed to the summit of all 46 of the highest mountains in New York State. My Uncle Gary told us stories of people he saw in the hospital where he worked. He is a radiologist, so he looks at x-ray and MRI images of people’s bodies to try to find disease or broken bones.

I loved the stories I would hear while my grandmother moved around the kitchen making the final preparations for the meal.

Thanksgiving Holiday: Then & Now

In our teen years, we started calling it the “cousin’s table”. This seemed like a better name. Then, some cousins got married, and my sister and I eventually did, too. Since we’ve begun our own families, we have never all coincided again at grandma and grandpa’s house for the Thanksgiving holiday. Maybe someday we will.

What also never changed was how cozy we all felt. My cousins and I would laugh so hard at the silliest things like playing with our food or telling stories about our parents. We would always stuff ourselves full of food, and my grandfather always fell asleep in a reclining chair while watching the Thanksgiving football game.

Nowadays, I have my own family. My wife, my daughters and I celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with my wife’s family. We still all overeat. There will always be a lot happening in everyone’s life, so we continue to tell stories and catch up on the latest news. I still always feel so cozy sitting by the fireplace in the living room after finishing a huge meal. Somebody usually still falls asleep, and this Thanksgiving it was me.

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