A Beginner’s Guide to Thanksgiving

What is Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving (or Thanksgiving Day) is a secular public holiday in the USA, traditionally kicking off the ‘holiday season’. It’s a day of “giving thanks”, a time to appreciate all that we have been blessed with, and to feel gratitude for what we have.

Canada also celebrates Thanksgiving, but on an earlier date than the USA.

When is Thanksgiving?

In the US, Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday in November. In Canada, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday in October.

For the next Thanksgiving dates, see the top of this page.

What is the History of Thanksgiving?

In 1620 a ship called the Mayflower left Plymouth England on a long and treacherous 2 month journey to the USA to establish a new village, also called Plymouth, just south of Boston. The winter that year was brutal, and around half the passengers, known as Pilgrims, didn’t live to see Spring.

The particularly harsh winter also punished that year’s crops, resulting in a very poor harvest. A native American called Squanto from a local tribe took the pilgrims under his wing and taught them how to cultivate crops, catch fish, extract sap from maple trees and many other survival strategies.

The harvest of 1621 was a big success, and the Pilgrims invited the native Americans to join them in a celebratory feast – the first Thanksgiving.

However it wasn’t until 1863 that Thanksgiving became a national celebration following a proclamation by Abraham Lincoln. The trigger for this was a 36 year campaign to establish the national holiday by a writer called Sarah Josepha Hale – who incidentally is also the creator of the nursery rhyme “Mary had a little lamb”.

In 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt passed a bill fixing the date for Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday of November.

Want some more interesting facts on Thanksgiving? Then watch this video from The History Channel.

How is Thanksgiving celebrated?

Thanksgiving is a public holiday in the US and Canada. It’s a time when families get together a give gifts (and greeting cards!) to each other.

The highlight of the festival is usually the traditional Thanksgiving dinner, which usually include a carved turkey, pumpkin pie, stuffing, cranberry sauce and apple pie.