The History & Food Behind Thanksgiving Dinner

history of Thanksgiving dinner

From cornucopias to pumpkin pie, there are many traditions that make up Thanksgiving dinner. Yet, there is much more to this holiday and its festivities than just the food!

Thanksgiving may encompass a variety of different traditions but it’s more than just a kick-off to the Christmas season. As the busiest travel day of the year, it takes place each year on the fourth Thursday in November. From football to wishbones, there are unique traditions, decorations, and recipes that go along with Thanksgiving dinner. Whether you have Cornish game hens or oven-roasted turkey, there are many ways to celebrate this holiday!

oil painting first Thanksgiving

What is the history of Thanksgiving dinner?

One of the most important national holidays in the United States is Thanksgiving Day. While there were many events that gave birth to the tradition, it is believed that it began in 1621. When the Mayflower left England in September 1620, it landed in Cape Cod where colonists began to settle. After the pilgrims’ first harvest succeeded, the pilgrims and the Native Americans planned a feast. The Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared the feast that has come to be known as Thanksgiving dinner. While many Native American traditions were used to cook the meal, dessert was not a part of the initial feast. In 1817, New York became the first state to organize an annual Thanksgiving. But, it wasn’t until 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln declared it a national holiday. 

Macy's thanksgiving day parade turkey

Editorial credit: Photo Spirit / Shutterstock.com

What do people do on Thanksgiving?

Given the importance of Thanksgiving Day in the United States, it’s no surprise that many travel home for this holiday. Yet, there’s more to Thanksgiving than the well-known feast! For some, it can be a time to give back by volunteering at a food bank or homeless shelter. For those at home, spending time with family watching football or the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is customary. The Turkey Trot is also a popular national event that can help to balance out Thanksgiving dinner eats! As the most popular race in America, this run started in Buffalo, New York in 1896 and is still going. But, don’t forget about one of the day’s most prominent traditions – the turkey pardon! Instead of being a part of the feast, a gifted turkey is pardoned by The President of the United States.

Thanksgiving decorations

What are some easy Thanksgiving decorations?

Since it takes place in autumn, there are many Thanksgiving dinner ideas that go along with the season. Some people decorate their mantle with a variety of seasonal vegetables, like gourds and pumpkins. The cornucopia, representative of a ‘horn of plenty’, is also a popular Thanksgiving decoration. Beyond the season’s popular vegetables, the hues of orange, red and brown also make for good decorations. Whether it’s an autumn wreath or flower arrangement, there are ways to incorporate seasonal colors and stick to the budget. It can also be a fun family affair to pick wheat stalks, cattails and leaves to complement the Thanksgiving feast.

Thanksgiving dinner turkey squashWhat do you eat at a traditional Thanksgiving dinner?

There may be many traditions and decorations that go along with autumn and the Thanksgiving holiday. But, the most important part of the holiday is most certainly the feast with its bevy of autumn-inspired food! While the traditional foods have changed considerably since its beginnings, there are many common Thanksgiving dinner recipesTurkey (or Tofurkey for vegetarians) is the meal’s highlight, whether cooked in a slow cooker, turkey fryer or oven. Some of the popular side dishes include Brussels sprouts, green bean casserole, butternut squash, cranberry sauce, and Jell-O salad. Mashed potatoes, yams, and sweet potatoes are also staple sides. Unlike the first Thanksgiving, dessert is now an important part of the feast with pumpkin pie and pecan pie being the prominent favorites!

The focus of Thanksgiving may be the feast, but there are many traditions that go into the special day. Do you have any quick, easy Thanksgiving dinner recipes unique to your family? If you so, please share them in our comments! Whether it’s volunteering, watching football or doing the Turkey Trot, there are many ways to make the holiday memorable.

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