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Thanksgiving: When did the holiday start and why does the US celebrate it?

With the end of November nearing, Americans have started preparing their Thanksgiving menus - with the requisite turkeys and stuffing ingredients likely already purchased for the holiday which is still a few days away.

Apart from the food, arguably the main component of the day, the holiday is a beloved time of year when Americans come together to celebrate what they are thankful for - either with family or friends.

In America, Thanksgiving is a cultural holiday that symbolises peace, thankfulness, and the beginning of the holiday season.

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What is Thanksgiving and where did it come from?

Thanksgiving is a national holiday in the United States celebrated in November.

The annual feast is in honour of the “first” Thanksgivings in America, in 1619 in Virginia, and in 1621, when colonists in Plymouth, Massachusetts, later known as the Pilgrims, shared a meal with the Wampanoag Indians, who were native to the land.

The later feast was in honour of the help the Pilgrims received from the Native Americans in cultivating crops and surviving their first harsh winter and it lasted three days.

Later, US Presidents including George Washington, John Adams and James Madison called for days of thanks throughout their presidencies.

However, it was not until 1863, during the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln declared a national Thanksgiving Day would be held each November to be celebrated by all of the country.

When is Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving takes place each year on the fourth Thursday of November.

Lemurs enjoy Thanksgiving dinner

This year, Thanksgiving falls on 28 November.

Why do Americans celebrate it and what do they do?

Although Thanksgiving may originally have had religious significance, the day has become a mostly secular holiday.   

Most Americans consider the holiday a day to gather and express their thanks through food, family, and football - with multiple NFL teams playing on the holiday.

During some Thanksgiving celebrations, people write down what they are thankful for and then read aloud from the pieces of paper.

In schools, children learn about the holiday by colouring in pictures of Pilgrims and turkeys and the Mayflower, the ship the colonists arrived on.

The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade takes place in New York City (Getty)

The day is also celebrated with the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.

The world’s largest Thanksgiving parade includes giant balloons of cartoons that float above the city sky, as well as marching bands and dancers.

Following Thanksgiving, the month-long shopping for the winter holidays begins, with Black Friday kicking off the season.

Where is it celebrated?

Thanksgiving is one of the the most important cultural holidays in America, however, Canada also has its own Thanksgiving Day, on the second Monday in October, and Liberia celebrates Thanksgiving on the first Thursday of November.

What do people eat on Thanksgiving?

In America, turkeys are an integral part of Thanksgiving Day, with most dinners including the bird.

Many Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving (Stock)

An estimated 46m turkeys are killed annually for the holiday, however, one turkey is pardoned each year by the president.

But Americans who don't eat meat or follow a vegan lifestyle don't have to worry about missing out, as there are numerous vegan and vegetarian Thanksgiving options

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Americans also indulge in Thanksgiving favourites such as yams topped with marshmallows, stuffing, cranberry sauce, cornbread, and pumpkin pie.

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