10 Thanksgiving traditions and where they come from

Thanksgiving is a beloved occasion for Americans to spend time with their families and reflect on what they’re grateful for over the past year.

The holiday is celebrated every year on the fourth Thursday in November, which means this year’s Thanksgiving will be falling on Thursday 23 November. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone in the US will be celebrating.

The annual event is deeply controversial, due to the contentious history of when the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in the 17th century. The holiday has been linked to instances of cultural appropriation, while others believe its history is frequently white-washed. As a result, many Americans have chosen to either ignore or condemn Thanksgiving as a whole.

That is not to say that people won’t commemorate some Thanksgiving traditions, such as expressing what you’re grateful for. While holiday traditions can vary based on cultural backgrounds, there is a wide range of favourite Thanksgiving fesitivies to choose from, including watching the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Here are some Thanksgiving traditions that people in the US have continued to take part in each year.

Give back on Thanksgiving

The holiday season has always been a special time for people to give back to those in need, especially on Thanksgiving.

In 2022, there were about 582,462 unhoused people living in the US, compared to 580,466 in 2020, according to Statista. As homelessness rates have shot up in the last three years, many people have opted to spend the holiday at a local shelter and donate a variety of baked and canned goods - fit for a Thanksgiving meal.

Watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is one of the most beloved Thanksgiving traditions. The annual event has taken place in New York City since 1924, filled with live musical performances, giant balloons, floats, and more. The parade usually starts on West 77th Street and ends at 34th Street, right where the Macy’s flagship department store is located.

Some people who live in or outside of New York City choose to attend the parade in person, but watching it in the comfort of your home while making a lavish feast is also a nice activity.

You can find out more about the parade and how to watch here.

Host a Friendsgiving

Some Americans don’t have the opportunity to return home for Thanksgiving, so many people have taken on the tradition of hosting a dinner with their best pals - also known as a Friendsgiving.

For the occasion, you and your friends can host a potluck, in which everyone brings one dish for the lavish feast. The dinner can be hosted on any day before or after Thanksgiving, in addition to the actual holiday.

Write down what you are most thankful for

Thanksgiving is often an opportunity for Americans to express what they’re thankful for. Although this can happen at any point during the day, some choose to give thanks while sitting at dinner, as each person takes their turn sharing what it is they’re thankful for.

Decorate your home

To coincide with the fall season, many people decorate their homes with autumn-themed colours. From the tablecloth on the dinner table to the floral centerpiece, you can go for any decoration that’s red, orange, or yellow.

Sit down and tune in to your favourite holiday movie

All that stuffing and turkey will have you wanting to lie down on the couch and relax. So, why not also tune in to your favourite movie? Some classics include A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019), Toy Story (1995), Addams Family Values (1993) and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973).

You can also throw some beloved Christmas movies into the mix, like Elf (2003), It’s A Wonderful Life (1947) and Steel Magnolias (1989).

For the full list, check out The Independent’s classic movie suggestions here.

Play games with the family

It’s fun to let loose with a bit of friendly competition, especially on a busy holiday. Games are always a great way to get children, family, and friends involved in the fun. From charades to Mad Libs and bingo, there are a ton of games you can play to keep the family entertained.

If the weather permits, you could also spend some of your Thanksgiving day with an outdoor game of family football.

The Turkey Trot marathon

The Turkey Trot marathon is another outdoor activity that takes place on Thanksgiving. The tradition consists of going on a run, typically on the morning of the holiday.

There are many races - which are usually about three and a half miles - across the US, including the annual Turkey Trot in Boston around the Charles River. The event is held to raise donations for the Boston Road Runners youth programme.

Break a wishbone

It’s a tradition that has been around for many centuries. The wishbone – also known as the furcula from the chest bone of the turkey - is often broken before dinner.

Dating back to the ancient Etruscan civilization in Italy, many people believed chickens were soothsayers and would stroke the furcula to make wishes, according to the book Panati’s Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things.

Americans have since made the tradition their own, by having two people break each side of the wishbone on Thanksgiving. The person who breaks the largest side of the bone gets to make a wish.

Shop the Friday after Thanksgiving

Each year, some Americans choose to end Thanksgiving by going on a late-night shopping spree for annual Black Friday deals. However, many people tend to go to their local mall the day after Thanksgiving to see what sales their favourite clothing store has to offer.