Thanksgiving is a national holiday celebrated mainly in several countries of North America, most notably in the United States and Canada. The holiday is observed on the fourth Thursday of November and the second Monday of October in those places, respectively.
Generally speaking, the theme of Thanksgiving is one of reflection and gratitude, though in modern times the holiday has become commercialized as well. It traces its roots in the United States to the arrival of Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts, which took place in 1620 with the landing of the famous ship Mayflower after a ten-week voyage from England. Thanksgiving can be celebrated either as a religious holiday with grace said before the meal or as a secular holiday.
Thanksgiving is traditionally observed with the serving of a large and festive meal, customarily featuring turkey as the centerpiece dish. Parades and marathon runs (sometimes known as "Turkey Trots") are common in many places on this day, as well as playing of sports such as football both at the amateur and professional league level. Volunteering at charities such as soup kitchens or homeless shelters is also a popular activity during the holiday, in the spirit of giving back to one's community. Many people gather to celebrate the holiday together with family and friends.
Thanksgiving has become controversial, as some Native American/First Nations people celebrate it but others commemorate it as a day of mourning, and it is also known as Native American Day.
Thanksgiving is an extremely busy time for travel, and in fact the busiest in the U.S. Airfare is often especially pricey just before and after the holiday, and major roads can become congested easily, so plan accordingly and prepare to wait. Flights to the U.S. are usually fully booked as American expatriates head home to spend time with their families. Better yet, try to avoid traveling by plane or road the day before or the Sunday after Thanksgiving in the U.S. If you can travel on the morning of Thanksgiving, you may be able to save money on airfare and avoid the worst crowding.
The majority of people fly or drive to their relatives' or friends' houses to celebrate the holiday. The majority of travel during Thanksgiving itself may be spent going to and from activities.
- Parades are a common public event in many places on Thanksgiving Day. Arguably the most famous of them all is Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, an annual tradition that has taken place in New York City every Thanksgiving since 1924, featuring giant floats and balloons representing various entertainment and popular culture icons, as well as corporations. The parade is televised nationally in the United States.
- Marathons, popularly known as "Turkey Trots", are often held on Thanksgiving Day. If not participating as a runner, virtually all of them welcome spectators to cheer on the participants.
- Football games are played in some neighborhoods and communities, and there are televised National Football League games played during the day and evening.
- Volunteering, such as by serving meals at soup kitchens, is a popular form of community service many people of all ages participate in on Thanksgiving.
Spending for Thanksgiving is usually for food and related accessories (napkins, plates, glasses), drinks and travel. Some retailers and businesses (e.g. drugstores, supermarkets) are open on Thanksgiving, but typically with reduced hours, and limited staff and services offered.
The day after Thanksgiving has become known as Black Friday in the United States, and is arguably the most popular time of the year for major retailers, small businesses, and other services to offer sales of deeply discounted merchandise. While some stores are open on the holiday, others open very early on the following morning, and create a frenzy to attract shoppers.
Thanksgiving meals tend to be big feasts that celebrate the bounty of the land. They are as varied as the people in North America, but they typically feature foods that originate from the Americas, including a roast turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes, and often one or more side of candied yams (sweet potatoes), corn and string beans, with pumpkin pie and sometimes sweet potato or pecan pie for dessert, often alongside fresh fruit, but apple pie, ice cream and/or Jello are also traditional and various other kinds of meats can be served in addition to or instead of a turkey. Stuffing for the turkey can be based on cornbread or wild rice, but there are many types. All sorts of vegetable sides can be served, including salad, broccoli, cauliflower, squash, Brussels sprouts and collard greens.
Many families do not drink alcohol while others do, so if you are invited to a Thanksgiving meal and are not sure whether it would be appropriate to bring wine or liquor, ask the host. Coffee and tea are typically offered after the savory part of the meal.
Most people sleep at home on Thanksgiving, or at their out-of-town host's place if they are invited to do so.
Overeating and intoxication can be the biggest challenges most people experience during Thanksgiving, so it can be very helpful to strategize in advance how to avoid these pitfalls in order to enjoy the holiday more comfortably. Some people may overspend the next day during Black Friday, so if this tends to be an issue, creating and sticking to a budget can help keep personal finances in check.
Given the polarization of American society since the mid-2010s, Thanksgiving can be a ripe time for conflict with others you may be spending the holiday with, whenever disagreement surfaces on various issues. In order to avoid arguments or even worse, many people steer clear of sensitive topics, such as politics and religion.
Motorists driving under the influence of alcohol can present a real danger during Thanksgiving. Be sure to use extra caution when crossing streets, and don't drive under the influence yourself.
Consider not going shopping on Black Friday, as maniacal shoppers have been known to trample others to death in a rush to grab whatever they want to buy.
Black Friday immediately follows Thanksgiving, and kicks off the unofficial holiday shopping season.
Christmas is observed within a month (U.S.) or two (Canada) of Thanksgiving. Jews celebrate Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, a bit before or around the same time as Christmas, depending on when the lunar Jewish calendar falls by comparison with the solar Christian calendar.