Is Thanksgiving a British Holiday?

by CiCi
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Thanksgiving is a holiday deeply embedded in the cultural fabric of the United States and Canada. Its history, traditions, and significance are well-known in these countries, but it often raises questions in other parts of the world, including the United Kingdom. Is Thanksgiving a British holiday? This question merits a detailed exploration, delving into the history, cultural exchanges, and the current state of the holiday in Britain.

The Origins of Thanksgiving

To understand whether Thanksgiving is a British holiday, it is essential first to grasp its origins. Thanksgiving in the United States is traditionally traced back to 1621 when the Pilgrims, English settlers who had traveled across the Atlantic aboard the Mayflower, held a feast to celebrate their first successful harvest in the New World. They were joined by the Wampanoag people, who had helped them survive their first winter.


This event is often romanticized in American culture as the “First Thanksgiving,” although the historical accuracy of the story is subject to debate. What remains clear is that the holiday evolved from a simple harvest celebration into a national day of giving thanks.


In Canada, Thanksgiving has slightly different origins. It can be traced back to 1578, when English explorer Martin Frobisher held a feast to give thanks for his safe arrival in the New World. Canadian Thanksgiving, therefore, predates its American counterpart and is celebrated on the second Monday in October, unlike the fourth Thursday in November for the United States.

Thanksgiving in the UK: Historical Connections

The Pilgrims who celebrated the first American Thanksgiving were originally from England, specifically from areas around Plymouth in Devon. They left England seeking religious freedom, and their story is a significant part of both American and British history. However, despite these historical ties, Thanksgiving did not take root as a holiday in the UK.

One reason for this is the timing of events. The Pilgrims left England and established their traditions in the New World. Their harvest celebration evolved separately from British customs and was influenced by the unique circumstances and relationships they developed in America, particularly with the Native American tribes. The distinct evolution of Thanksgiving meant that it did not become a part of British holiday traditions.

Cultural Exchange and Awareness

In the contemporary UK, Thanksgiving is not an official holiday and is not widely celebrated. However, the influence of American culture is pervasive, and many British people are aware of Thanksgiving through movies, television shows, and social media. This cultural exchange has led to some level of informal observance, especially among expatriates and those with American connections.

British supermarkets and stores often capitalize on this awareness by stocking Thanksgiving-related products, such as turkeys, cranberries, and pumpkin pies, around late November. Some restaurants also offer Thanksgiving-themed menus to cater to American expatriates and curious locals.

American Expatriates and Thanksgiving in the UK

For American expatriates living in the UK, Thanksgiving is a significant holiday. Many Americans in the UK celebrate Thanksgiving with traditional meals and gatherings, bringing a slice of home to their new country. These celebrations can be quite substantial, with families and friends coming together to share a meal that typically includes turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and various pies.

Some American expatriates may invite their British friends to join in the festivities, leading to a cultural exchange that broadens the understanding and appreciation of the holiday. International schools and American institutions in the UK often host Thanksgiving events, further promoting the holiday’s traditions.

British Perception of Thanksgiving

To the average British person, Thanksgiving is seen as an American tradition. While there is an understanding of its significance, it does not hold the same cultural weight or emotional resonance as it does in the United States and Canada. For most Brits, late November is a time when they start preparing for Christmas, which is a major holiday in the UK.

That being said, there is a growing curiosity and interest in Thanksgiving among some British people. This interest is often fueled by media and personal connections with Americans. Some British families may even choose to adopt the tradition of a Thanksgiving meal as a way to experience a new cultural practice and to enjoy a special meal with loved ones.

Thanksgiving vs. British Harvest Festivals

The closest equivalent to Thanksgiving in the UK is the traditional Harvest Festival. Harvest Festival is celebrated in churches and schools around the country, typically in September or October. It is a time to give thanks for the crops that have been grown and to share food with those in need.

Harvest Festival has its roots in pagan times when communities would celebrate the successful gathering of crops with feasts and rituals. Today, it is more commonly observed in a religious context, with church services and school events where people bring in food donations to help those less fortunate.

While Harvest Festival shares some thematic similarities with Thanksgiving, such as giving thanks and celebrating the harvest, it lacks the national holiday status and the specific traditions associated with Thanksgiving in the United States and Canada.

Thanksgiving-Themed Events in the UK

Despite not being an official holiday, Thanksgiving-themed events have become more common in the UK. These events cater to both American expatriates and Brits interested in experiencing the holiday. Some of the popular Thanksgiving-themed events and activities include:

Thanksgiving Dinners at Restaurants: Many restaurants, especially those with American themes, offer special Thanksgiving menus. These meals typically feature traditional dishes like roast turkey, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie.

Community Events: American expatriate communities often organize Thanksgiving gatherings, which may include potluck dinners, social events, and even charity fundraisers.

Retail Promotions: Supermarkets and specialty food stores often stock Thanksgiving-related products in the weeks leading up to the holiday. This includes turkeys, canned pumpkin, and other ingredients essential for a Thanksgiving meal.

Thanksgiving Services: Some churches, particularly those with American congregations, may hold special Thanksgiving services. These services provide an opportunity for people to give thanks and celebrate together.

Media Coverage: British media often cover Thanksgiving, explaining its origins and traditions. Television shows and news segments may feature stories about how American expatriates celebrate the holiday in the UK.

The Future of Thanksgiving in the UK

While Thanksgiving is not currently a British holiday, its presence and influence in the UK are likely to continue growing. As the world becomes more interconnected, cultural exchanges increase, and holidays like Thanksgiving can gain a foothold in countries where they were previously unknown.

The future of Thanksgiving in the UK may see more British people adopting the holiday’s traditions, either out of curiosity or as a way to enjoy a festive meal with family and friends. Retailers and restaurants are likely to continue capitalizing on this interest, offering products and experiences that cater to both American expatriates and British citizens.

However, it is unlikely that Thanksgiving will ever become an official holiday in the UK. The British holiday calendar is already filled with significant dates, and the cultural and historical context of Thanksgiving is very much tied to American and Canadian history.

See also: Where Can I Watch the Great Holiday Baking Show?


In conclusion, Thanksgiving is not a British holiday, but it is a well-known and increasingly observed event in the UK. The historical connections between the Pilgrims and England, combined with the influence of American culture, have led to a growing awareness and informal celebration of Thanksgiving among some British people and American expatriates living in the UK.

While Thanksgiving is unlikely to become an official holiday in Britain, its traditions and themes resonate with many, offering an opportunity for cultural exchange and a chance to enjoy a special meal with loved ones. As global connections continue to strengthen, the presence of Thanksgiving in the UK may continue to evolve, adding another layer to the rich tapestry of British holiday culture.


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