why do we celebrate thanksgiving

Why Do We Celebrate Thanksgiving? (Cultural Significance)

Thanksgiving is a time-honored tradition in the United States and Canada, celebrated with joy and gratitude. But have you ever wondered why we celebrate this holiday? In this article, we will explore the cultural significance of Thanksgiving and delve into its historical roots. So, let’s uncover the reasons behind this cherished holiday and discover why it holds such a special place in our hearts.

Key Takeaways:

  • Thanksgiving is an annual holiday that celebrates the blessings of the past year.
  • It originated from a harvest feast shared between English colonists and Native Americans in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
  • Thanksgiving symbolizes peace, thankfulness, and the beginning of the holiday season.
  • The holiday became a national observance in the United States in 1863.
  • Thanksgiving is a time for families and friends to gather, enjoy a festive meal, and express gratitude for their blessings.

The Origins of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving in America traces its origins back to the 17th century when the Pilgrims and Wampanoag people came together to celebrate a harvest feast in Plymouth. The Pilgrims, who had arrived in the New World on the Mayflower, were celebrating their successful harvest with the help and support of the Native Americans. This event is often considered the first Thanksgiving, and it has shaped the cultural significance of the holiday.

The Pilgrims had experienced a challenging journey and a harsh first winter in the unfamiliar land. However, with the help of the Wampanoag people, they were able to cultivate and harvest crops, leading to a bountiful harvest. In gratitude for their blessings, the Pilgrims organized a feast to give thanks for the assistance and support they had received.

The celebration was not a standalone event but rather a continuation of a long-standing European tradition of giving thanks for a successful harvest. However, the Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving took on added meaning due to the circumstances and the collaboration between the colonists and the Native Americans. The feast symbolized cooperation, unity, and gratitude, values that continue to be associated with Thanksgiving to this day.

The First Thanksgiving Feast

The first Thanksgiving feast is believed to have included a variety of foods, such as venison, fowl, fish, wild berries, squash, and corn. It was a communal meal shared by the Pilgrims and Wampanoag people, reflecting their shared abundance and goodwill towards one another.

Traditional Foods Symbolism
Turkey A symbol of abundance and communal feasting.
Cranberries Representing the harvest season and the natural resources of the land.
Pumpkin Pie A symbol of gratitude and the bounty of the harvest.
Stuffing Signifying the creativity and resourcefulness in using available ingredients.

The Evolving Meaning of Thanksgiving

Over time, Thanksgiving evolved from a regional celebration to a national holiday with its own traditions and customs. It became an opportunity for people to express gratitude for their blessings, not just in terms of a successful harvest, but also in terms of personal and communal achievements throughout the year.

Thanksgiving is a time for reflection, appreciation, and celebration of our shared journey as a nation. It is a reminder to pause and give thanks for the freedoms, opportunities, and blessings we enjoy.

While the origins of Thanksgiving can be traced back to the Pilgrims and Native Americans, the holiday has since taken on broader cultural significance. It is a time for families and friends to come together, enjoy a festive meal, and reflect on the abundance in their lives. Thanksgiving represents a spirit of unity, gratitude, and togetherness that transcends historical origins and resonates with people across the United States.

The Thanksgiving Day as a National Holiday

Thanksgiving Day holds great significance in the United States as a national holiday. It is a time when Americans come together to express gratitude for the blessings in their lives and to celebrate with their loved ones. The meaning of Thanksgiving goes beyond just a day of feasting; it represents unity, family, and the start of the holiday season.

The journey to establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday began in the 19th century, thanks to the efforts of Sarah Josepha Hale. She tirelessly campaigned for a national thanksgiving holiday, recognizing the importance of setting aside a dedicated day to give thanks. Finally, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving as a national holiday during the midst of the Civil War. This act not only brought comfort and hope to the American people during a challenging time but also solidified the significance of Thanksgiving in the nation’s culture.

The Significance of Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving Day holds a deep meaning for Americans. It is a day to reflect on the abundance and blessings of the past year, to express gratitude for the opportunities and experiences that have shaped their lives. It is also an occasion to appreciate the importance of family and friends, fostering a sense of togetherness and unity.

Thanksgiving has become a time-honored tradition that signifies the start of the holiday season. It marks the beginning of festivities, bringing joy, warmth, and a sense of anticipation for the upcoming celebrations. The day is filled with cherished customs, such as gathering around a bountiful table, sharing a meal, and partaking in traditions that have been passed down through generations. These traditions and activities contribute to the deeper significance of Thanksgiving in American culture.

Thanksgiving Traditions

Thanksgiving is a holiday steeped in tradition, with families and friends coming together to celebrate and give thanks. One of the most cherished traditions of Thanksgiving is the festive feast. The centerpiece of the meal is usually a roasted turkey, surrounded by a variety of side dishes that vary from family to family. Traditional favorites include cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie. This bountiful and delicious feast symbolizes abundance and gratitude for the blessings of the year.

In addition to the Thanksgiving feast, there are other long-standing traditions associated with the holiday. One of the most iconic is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. This annual event features larger-than-life balloons, marching bands, and extravagant floats, captivating spectators of all ages. Watching the parade from the comfort of home has become a cherished tradition for many families.

Football has also become synonymous with Thanksgiving. Many families gather around the television to watch the traditional Thanksgiving Day football games. This tradition dates back to the early 20th century and has become a beloved part of the holiday for sports enthusiasts.

The Thanksgiving Table

When it comes to the Thanksgiving feast, the table itself is often adorned with festive decorations. Tablecloths in warm autumn hues, elegant centerpieces featuring seasonal flowers and foliage, and place settings with special touches all create a welcoming and festive atmosphere.

To make the table even more inviting, families often incorporate personalized touches. For example, handwritten place cards with each guest’s name can add a thoughtful and personal element to the table setting. It’s these small details that make the Thanksgiving table a special gathering place for loved ones to come together and share in the joy of the holiday.

Overall, Thanksgiving traditions center around the warmth of family, the joy of delicious food, and the celebration of gratitude. It is a time to honor and appreciate the traditions passed down through generations while also embracing new customs that reflect the evolving nature of our society. Whether it’s enjoying a sumptuous feast, watching the parade, or gathering around the television for football, these traditions help create lasting memories and strengthen the bonds between loved ones.

Thanksgiving Around the World

While Thanksgiving is primarily celebrated in the United States and Canada, other countries also have their own harvest celebrations. These celebrations highlight the universal theme of gratitude for the blessings of the year and the importance of coming together with loved ones to celebrate.

One such country is Canada, where Thanksgiving Day is observed on the second Monday in October. Similar to the American tradition, Canadians gather with family and friends to enjoy a bountiful feast, expressing gratitude for the harvest and the abundance of the year.

Liberia is another country that celebrates its own Thanksgiving Day. On the first Thursday in November, Liberians come together to give thanks for the end of their civil war and the restoration of peace in the country. The celebration includes prayers, parades, cultural events, and feasts.

While the traditions and specific dates may vary, the underlying message of giving thanks and celebrating the harvest remains consistent across different cultures and countries. Thanksgiving, in its various forms, serves as a reminder to appreciate the blessings in our lives and to come together with loved ones to express gratitude and celebrate.

Country Date Traditions
United States Fourth Thursday in November Family gathering, feasting, parades, football games
Canada Second Monday in October Family gathering, feasting, expressing gratitude
Liberia First Thursday in November Prayers, parades, cultural events, feasts

Controversies Surrounding Thanksgiving

While Thanksgiving is widely celebrated as a time of gratitude and togetherness, it is not without its controversies. Many people view Thanksgiving as a celebration that overlooks the historical context and impact of colonization on Native American communities. The holiday’s origins are rooted in the complex relationship between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans, which involved both cooperation and conflict.

It is important to recognize that Thanksgiving is not just a simple celebration of peace and harmony, but a holiday that carries historical implications. The arrival of the Pilgrims marked the beginning of a colonization process that resulted in the displacement and marginalization of Native American tribes. This history cannot be ignored when discussing the cultural significance of Thanksgiving.

While Thanksgiving provides an opportunity for gratitude and reflection, it is also important to acknowledge the full historical narrative and the impact it has had on indigenous communities. By understanding and discussing the controversies surrounding Thanksgiving, we can have a more informed and inclusive perspective on this holiday.

As we gather with loved ones to celebrate Thanksgiving, it is crucial to engage in conversations that explore the complexities of our history and the ongoing challenges faced by Native American communities. This includes acknowledging the injustices of the past and supporting efforts towards reconciliation and the empowerment of indigenous voices.

Table: Thanksgiving’s Historical Context

Year Event
1620 The arrival of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower in Plymouth, Massachusetts
1621 The Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people gather for a harvest feast, often considered the first Thanksgiving
1863 President Abraham Lincoln declares Thanksgiving a national holiday
1941 Congress establishes the fourth Thursday in November as the official date for Thanksgiving

The Thanksgiving Meal

The centerpiece of the Thanksgiving celebration is the traditional meal. Families and friends gather around the table to enjoy a feast of delicious dishes that have become synonymous with the holiday. At the heart of the Thanksgiving meal is the iconic Thanksgiving turkey. Roasted to perfection, the turkey takes center stage, symbolizing abundance and gratitude. It is often accompanied by a variety of mouthwatering side dishes that add flavor and variety to the meal.

The traditional Thanksgiving meal typically includes cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and gravy. These classic accompaniments create a harmonious blend of flavors that complement the tender and juicy turkey. The tangy sweetness of cranberry sauce balances the savory richness of the turkey, while the indulgent mashed potatoes and gravy add a comforting touch to the meal.

For those with a sweet tooth, Thanksgiving is also a time for delectable desserts. Pumpkin pie, with its creamy and spiced filling, is a staple dessert during the holiday season. Other popular desserts include apple pie, pecan pie, and sweet potato casserole. These indulgent treats provide a sweet ending to the Thanksgiving feast.

Dish Description
Thanksgiving Turkey A roasted turkey is the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal, symbolizing abundance and gratitude.
Cranberry Sauce Tangy and sweet cranberry sauce adds a burst of flavor to the meal and complements the turkey.
Stuffing A savory mixture of breadcrumbs, herbs, and vegetables that is often cooked inside the turkey.
Mashed Potatoes Smooth and creamy mashed potatoes provide a comforting and hearty side dish.
Pumpkin Pie A classic Thanksgiving dessert made with a spiced pumpkin filling and a flaky crust.

“The Thanksgiving meal is a time-honored tradition that brings family and friends together. It is a celebration of abundance and gratitude, and the flavors and aromas of the meal evoke a sense of warmth and nostalgia. From the juicy turkey to the indulgent desserts, each dish holds a special place in the hearts and memories of those who gather around the table.”

Thanksgiving Traditions and Activities

Thanksgiving is not just about the food; it is also a time for shared traditions and activities that bring families and communities together. One of the most iconic events associated with Thanksgiving is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. This annual parade features giant balloons, floats, marching bands, and performances, captivating millions of viewers both in person and on television.

Aside from watching the parade, families engage in various activities to make the most of this special holiday. Many people enjoy watching football games, either in person or on TV, as Thanksgiving Day has become synonymous with this popular sport. Board games are also a common tradition, providing fun and friendly competition for all ages.

Thanksgiving is also a time for giving back to the community. Some families volunteer at local soup kitchens or donate food and essentials to those in need. Acts of kindness and charitable activities help spread the spirit of gratitude and compassion on this holiday devoted to thankfulness.

Table: Popular Thanksgiving Traditions and Activities

Traditions Activities
Gather with family and friends for a festive meal Watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
Share what they are thankful for Watch football games
Play board games Volunteer at local soup kitchens
Take part in charitable activities Donate food and essentials to those in need

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a cherished tradition that brings joy and excitement to people of all ages. It is a spectacle of giant character balloons, dazzling floats, and thrilling performances, making it a must-watch event of the holiday season.

By participating in these traditions and activities, families and communities foster a sense of togetherness and gratitude on Thanksgiving Day. From witnessing the grandeur of the parade to engaging in acts of kindness, each activity adds meaning and joy to the holiday celebration.

The Significance of Gratitude on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a time when people come together to express gratitude and reflect on the things they are thankful for. It serves as a reminder to appreciate the blessings in our lives and to acknowledge the acts of kindness and generosity that we have received throughout the year.

Expressing thanks on Thanksgiving can take many forms. Some families begin their meal with a moment of prayer or grace, giving thanks for the food and the company gathered around the table. Others go around the table, taking turns to share what they are grateful for, creating a sense of connection and appreciation.

“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” – Melody Beattie

Acts of kindness and generosity are also part of the Thanksgiving tradition. Many people volunteer at soup kitchens or donate to food banks to help those in need. By giving back to the community, we not only express our gratitude, but we also extend the spirit of Thanksgiving to those who may be less fortunate.

Gratitude is a powerful emotion that has been shown to have numerous benefits for our well-being. Research has found that expressing gratitude can lead to increased happiness, improved relationships, and even better physical health. Thanksgiving provides a dedicated time to cultivate this mindset of gratitude, allowing us to focus on the positive aspects of our lives and to appreciate the abundance that surrounds us.

In conclusion, gratitude is at the heart of Thanksgiving. It is a time for us to pause, reflect, and express thanks for the blessings in our lives. Whether through prayer, sharing around the table, or acts of kindness, the significance of gratitude on Thanksgiving reminds us of the importance of appreciating what we have and showing kindness to others.


In summary, Thanksgiving is a cherished cultural holiday that holds great significance in both the United States and Canada. It is a time when people come together with gratitude, celebrating the blessings of the past year. The holiday’s roots can be traced back to the 17th century, when Pilgrims and Native Americans shared a harvest feast in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Over the years, Thanksgiving has evolved into a time for family, friendship, and community, symbolizing peace, thankfulness, and the start of the holiday season.

While Thanksgiving is not without controversy, it serves as an opportunity for reflection, appreciation, and celebration. It is important to recognize the holiday’s historical context, acknowledging the complex relationship between the Pilgrims and Native Americans, as well as the impact of colonization on indigenous communities. Thanksgiving traditions such as the festive feast, parades, and activities like watching football games or engaging in charitable acts contribute to the sense of togetherness and joy.

Ultimately, Thanksgiving is a day to express gratitude and focus on the blessings in our lives. Whether it is through saying grace, sharing what we are thankful for, or participating in acts of kindness, the holiday reminds us of the importance of gratitude. As Thanksgiving approaches each year, let us come together with loved ones, enjoy the traditional meal, and create lasting memories, cherishing the spirit of thankfulness that the holiday embodies.


Why do we celebrate Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving is celebrated to give thanks for the blessings of the past year and to symbolize peace, thankfulness, and the beginning of the holiday season.

What are the origins of Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving traces its origins back to the 17th century when English colonists (Pilgrims) in Plymouth, Massachusetts, shared a harvest feast with the Wampanoag Native American people.

How did Thanksgiving become a national holiday?

Sarah Josepha Hale campaigned for a national thanksgiving holiday in the 19th century, and President Abraham Lincoln officially declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863.

What are some Thanksgiving traditions?

Thanksgiving traditions include gathering with family and friends for a festive meal, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and engaging in activities such as watching football games or playing board games.

Is Thanksgiving celebrated in other countries?

Yes, Thanksgiving is observed in Canada on the second Monday in October, and Liberia celebrates a Thanksgiving Day on the first Thursday in November.

Are there controversies surrounding Thanksgiving?

Yes, some view Thanksgiving as a celebration of the conquest of Native Americans and a whitewashing of history. The holiday’s historical context includes the complex relationship between the Pilgrims and Native Americans, as well as the impact of colonization on indigenous communities.

What is typically included in the Thanksgiving meal?

The traditional Thanksgiving meal often includes turkey, cranberries, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie.

What other activities are associated with Thanksgiving?

In addition to the Thanksgiving meal, activities such as watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, football games, and engaging in charitable activities to give back to the community are common traditions.

Why is gratitude significant on Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving provides a dedicated moment for people to express thanks for the blessings in their lives and to reflect on the things they are grateful for.

What is the significance of Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving is a cherished cultural holiday in the United States and Canada, celebrated with gratitude, food, and togetherness to signify the importance of family, friendship, and community.

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