Thanksgiving: Everything you need to know about history and traditions

The fourth Thursday in November – this time November 26th – is Thanksgiving in the US. Why and how is the festival celebrated at all?

It is more important than Christmas for many families in the USA and is also celebrated in Canada: Thanksgiving. The American Thanksgiving Festival is known to people outside of North America mainly from films and television series such as the cult sitcom "Friends". In this country they really don't know what to do with it, because Thanksgiving has nothing in common with old European traditions. Why is the festival always celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November – in the USA this year on November 26th? Which traditions are associated with it and what does "Black Friday" have to do with it?

In 1621 the pilgrims celebrated the "First Thanksgiving" with the Indians

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the basic idea of ​​American Thanksgiving is based on "First Thanksgiving". The British pilgrims celebrated it in 1621 with representatives of the Wampanoag tribe in Plymouth, Massachusetts, to say thanks for the harvest and the good events of the past year.

Some of the traditional ingredients from that time are still part of the Thanksgiving dinner today, including potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and a turkey with bread filling. The US President traditionally pardons a living specimen of the bird every year shortly before the festival.

Unlike Americans, who always celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November, Canadians celebrate their Thanksgiving festival more than a month earlier – on the second Monday in October. What both nations have in common, however, is the fact that the long Thanksgiving weekend is the most travel-intensive of the year.

Most Americans travel long distances before and after the festival because it is not predominantly the core families who celebrate together, but also more distant relatives and friends. Traffic jams on the streets and overcrowded airports are a part of Thanksgiving like turkey with stuffing.

Relaxation, fun and football on the long weekend

Americans, who in many cases can only dream of 30 days of paid vacation a year, love Thanksgiving not only because of the good food and family get-togethers. The long weekend, which often lasts four days thanks to a bridging day, is also important for reasons of relaxation and offers a lot of free time to do things that otherwise fall by the wayside – for example, doing sports or going on excursions.

And watch American football. There is hardly a Thanksgiving weekend in the USA without cheering on the NFL or college football team favorites. Since 2006 there have been three games on Thanksgiving Thursday itself, traditionally the Dallas Cowboys and the Detroit Lions. The scent of a turkey simmering in the oven for hours is often accompanied by loud hoots and the hissing of opening beer cans in the afternoon.

TV event "Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade" and shopping madness on "Black Friday"

Every year children look forward to another tradition that the department store chain Macy's started in 1927: the "Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade," which runs through the streets of New York City and attracts up to 250,000 spectators annually. At the beginning real animals were part of it, in 1927 they were replaced by oversized balloons, which today look like well-known cartoon characters or comic heroes – for example SpongeBob or Spider-Man.

Well-known music stars are also often part of the parade, which has been televised across the country since 1948. In the Corona year 2020, according to the official website, it will take place in a shortened form and subject to special hygiene requirements.

Traditionally, the Thanksgiving weekend in the USA also kicks off Christmas shopping. "Black Friday", which has nothing to do with the memorable stock market crash of 1929, has also been known in Germany for special offers in retail since 2013.

In the US, however, it has existed for a long time and is directly linked to the US version of the holiday. Many shops open their doors in the early hours of the morning on the bridging day to greet Christmas shoppers who are crazy about shopping. Similar to "Black Friday", online retailing has been celebrating "Cyber ​​Monday" on the following Monday for several years.