The Rituals and Traditions of Thanksgiving

leather bound book

Traditionally, the Thanksgiving meal was hosted by grandparents or the eldest member of the family. Today, the dinner is often given by a middle-age couple, who invite both young and old to join them. The meal brings the family together, and people are reminded of family history as grandma’s recipes are shared and old stories are repeated. The stories tell how the family has weathered difficulties, forgiven each other for problems in the past, and come through it all.

Sociologists say that when families immigrate to the United States, they often keep the foods of their native country and continue celebrating their traditional holidays. The one American event that gets incorporated into their holiday cycle is Thanksgiving, complete with turkey and stuffing, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.

In reading about Thanksgiving traditions of the Pilgrims and Native American tribes, historians say the main event of the holiday was group exercise (not food?!) which may explain the annual ‘turkey trot’ – a 5k family run on Thanksgiving morning. Or maybe it’s why we watch football, in lieu of trotting. But the main idea of any feast or festival is to do things that show we are united, while also making an effort to express our individuality.

Perhaps the turkey and stuffing symbolize both. The turkey is the universal container into which each family ‘stuffs’ its particular brand of stuffing, showing the family’s regional and individual history. This year, as your family gathers to give thanks, dig into the family stories. Stories might be the main reason so most of us prefer Thanksgiving to Christmas – the true gift is the family story.


by Adelaide Waters

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