American Thanksgiving, celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, is a US national holiday familiar all over the world. For most of us, the day summons images of turkey, pumpkin pie, family reunions, and American football.
But the origins of Thanksgiving are slightly different. The emigrating English Puritans and Pilgrims brought the practice of fasting and days of thanksgiving with them to New England, where they settled. The idea of modern-day Thanksgiving is most commonly thought to date back to 1621 when the Pilgrims celebrated their first harvest, with a three-day feast attended by 90 Native Americans in Plymouth; in what is now the state of Massachusetts. In the late 1660s, the harvest feast was formalised into an annual affair in New England, and in 1863 it was made into a federal holiday.
Turkey Day is a major date in the USA calendar, but you don’t need to stick to the full turkey-and-stuffing dinner, or an afternoon in front of the football, to enjoy it. Ring the changes with some different ways to celebrate Thanksgiving around the US.
Why not head to where it all started for Thanksgiving? Plymouth is 45 minutes south of Boston and hosts a three-day festival in commemoration of the Pilgrims’ harvest feast of 1621. Actors in costumes perform on the full-scale replica of the Mayflower. There are parades and live music concerts throughout the three days, and you can visit Plimoth Plantation where there’s a 17th-century living village.
New York City, New York
The biggest and most famous Thanksgiving parade takes place in New York City and is sponsored by Macy’s department store. Over 3.5 million people line the streets to watch this glittering parade pass – and those who aren’t there can watch the live broadcast on TV. Expect to spot giant cartoon character balloons floating high in the sky, marching bands, floats, hundreds of clowns, and big-name performers. To nab a decent spot along the route, you’ll need to arrive before 7am.
Dana Point, California
For those who want a (sort of) guilt-free feast, join the Dana Point Turkey Trot with the 10,000 other joggers, who lace up their running shoes on Thanksgiving morning. The scenic route follows the Californian coastline, and for active types who feel guilty after spending too much time on the couch, it’s a great way to kick-start the day. The 10K starts at 7am, the 5K at 9.30am and the kids’ one-mile ‘Gobble Wobble’ starts at 10.15am.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Most of us tend to think of the Pilgrims when we consider Thanksgiving, but there were actually more Native Americans at the Plymouth feast than Pilgrims. In Santa Fe, it’s Native American culture that’s central to celebrations around Thanksgiving, with the three-day Winter Indian Market featuring over 200 artists, Native American dancing and music. The market starts on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
Once all the Thanksgiving festivities are over, thoughts turn to Christmas and the growing retail tradition called Black Friday. Black Friday occurs the day after Thanksgiving, and is fast becoming the biggest date in the shopping calendar. It started initially with sales in electrical and home entertainment stores, but you now find Black Friday sales across most industries, including travel.