Belfast Telegraph

Thanksgiving: Everything you don't really need to know

Every year, millions of Americans kick off the 'holiday season' with Thanksgiving while the rest of the world looks on in envy that they essentially get two Christmas Days.

While us Europeans don't celebrate the holiday, we have watched enough American television and films to know that it is a pretty big deal.

So what's it all about then? Well here's everything you don't really need to know but you're just being nosy:

What is Thanksgiving?

The origin of Thanksgiving is traced back to 1621 when English Pilgrims invited local Native Americans, the Wampanoag tribe, to a harvest feast after a successful growing season - the previous years had been pretty bad, with many pilgrims starving to death.

The local tribe had taught the Pilgrims how to grow corn, beans and squash, as well as catch fish and collect seafood.

The celebration feast lasted for three days and is often referred to as 'the first thanksgiving'.

When is Thanksgiving?

During the American Civil War in 1863, Abraham Lincoln scheduled Thanksgiving to be celebrated on the final Thursday in November.

This was the official date every year until 1939.

Then US President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the Thanksgiving date by a week in an attempt to boost retail sales during the Great Depression.

This didn't go down too well with American citizens and in 1941 Roosevelt reluctantly signed a bill returning Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday in November.

What do you do on Thanksgiving?

Well, if Joey from Friends has taught us anything, you put your stretchy trousers on and you eat!

Americans also enjoy a big football game (not actual football, American football) they go to Thanksgiving Day parades, and generally sit around with family and friends being thankful and drinking beer.

The Macy's parade in New York is a huge deal - dating back to the 1920s, it features various floats, bands, balloons, cheerleaders, and dancers.

PANews BT_P-7d5bc8ee-6895-4851-9c31-d813a4ca7d29_I1.jpg
People walk along Central Park West at the start of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York (AP)

What do you eat on Thanksgiving?

Turkey. Lots of Turkey.

The Americans have also been known to enjoy ham, goose, duck, stuffing, and most importantly pies.

Pumpkin, pecan, and apple pies are particular favourites.

Essentially they are having a big Christmas dinner before Christmas.

(Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

What's the Presidential reprieve all about then?

Every year the President of the United States takes part in a ceremony where a turkey is pardoned and saved from becoming dinner.

Since the 1940s the POTUS would have been presented with two turkeys ahead of Thanksgiving, but in 1987 Ronald Regan 'pardoned' the animal.

His successor George H.W. Bush carried on the tradition from 1989 and it has been carried out ever since.

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Former US President Barack Obama pardons a turkey.

Do any other countries celebrate Thanksgiving?

The USA's neighbours Canada partakes in 'Turkey Day' on the second Monday in October.

Fair enough.

Why does the UK not celebrate Thanksgiving?

We're still trying to deal with Black Friday.

Five perfect films to watch on Thanksgiving

Planes, Trains and Automobiles


A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving


Grumpy Old Men


Scent of a Woman


Miracle on 34th Street (1994) - to get you in the mood for Christmas


And of course, any of the Friends Thanksgiving episodes


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From Belfast Telegraph