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Embassy English 24 November 2015 - by Laina Gardiner MacRae, Integrated Marketing Manager

What Does American Thanksgiving Mean? Turkeys, Families, and Shopping


“Something about eating a lot?”
“November 26th?”
“Shopping?”
“Turkey?”
“I don’t know…”

We asked students from our Embassy English locations in the United States to tell us what they think the American Thanksgiving holiday is all about. Most of their answers involved eating – a lot! Others mentioned shopping and celebrating something with family, but most of our international students had no idea why exactly Americans celebrate Thanksgiving.

Watch the video to see their often hilarious answers to “What does American Thanksgiving Mean?,” and read below for more about the history of American Thanksgiving, where we will hopefully put our Embassy Boston student from Turkey at ease about our traditional Thanksgiving meal…

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A Brief History of American Thanksgiving

The first Thanksgiving feast was held in 1621 in celebration of the Autumn harvest and the friendship between the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag Indians. The Native Americans had taught the European settlers how to survive and farm in the harsh wilds of Massachusetts.  After the first successful harvest in 1621, the Pilgrims organized a celebratory feast to give thanks with members the Wampanoag tribe. The original feast is said to have included lobster, swan, venison, and seal on the menu!

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Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, “The First Thanksgiving,” 1915, oil on canvas

Over the years, the practice of celebrating a day of thanksgiving spread throughout The Colonies. In 1789, George Washington gave the first presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation in gratitude for the end of the Revolutionary War and ratification of the U.S. Constitution. New York was the first state to officially observe Thanksgiving as an annual holiday, and in 1863 Abraham Lincoln was the first President to declare a national day of giving thanks and to honor of the victims of the Civil War.

Although Thanksgiving originally had religious connotations, the holiday is now considered a secular holiday, focused on cooking with friends and family. Many traditions have developed over the years, including the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York city, watching football, baking pumpkin pie, and the ubiquitous turkey feast.
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Norman Rockwell, “Freedom From Want” 1943, oil on canvas

Interestingly enough, Benjamin Franklin, one of the American Founding Fathers, lobbied to name the turkey as our national symbol rather than the bald eagle. He suggested that the turkey was “a much more respectable Bird,” “a true original Native of America,” and “though a little vain and silly, a Bird of Courage.”

Each year, The President of the United States officially “pardons” a lucky turkey, who after a trip to the White House, will join other celebrity turkeys, with names like “Courage,” “Freedom,” “Liberty,” and “Jerry,” at farms and parks across the US as Thanksgiving ambassadors.

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Photo by Larry Downing/Reuters

In modern times, Thanksgiving has also become associated with “Black Friday,” the notorious day of Holiday shopping where businesses offer the lowest prices of the year on popular gift giving items, often inciting massive lines and riots over toys.  Our advice: skip the lines, give thanks for what you already have, and enjoy all of those delicious Thanksgiving leftovers with your new Embassy English friends!

Here at Embassy English, we are thankful for our amazing teachers and staff, and of course for all of our incredible students!

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Happy Thanksgiving!

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Photo by Lonely Planet

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