What’s the Most Celebrated Holiday in America

by CiCi
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Thanksgiving is arguably the most celebrated holiday in America, bringing together families and friends for a time-honored tradition filled with gratitude, feasting, and communal bonding. While other holidays such as Christmas, Independence Day, and Halloween hold significant places in American culture, Thanksgiving stands out due to its unique history, widespread participation, and the deep emotional resonance it carries for many Americans. This article explores the history, traditions, cultural significance, and modern-day celebrations of Thanksgiving, highlighting why it holds such a special place in the hearts of many.

History and Origins of Thanksgiving

The origins of Thanksgiving date back to the early 17th century, when English Pilgrims settled in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts. The Pilgrims, having endured a harsh winter and facing starvation, were aided by the Wampanoag tribe, who taught them essential survival skills such as farming, fishing, and hunting. In the autumn of 1621, the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag shared a feast to celebrate the successful harvest, marking what is considered the first Thanksgiving.


This event was not initially an annual tradition but was later revived and transformed into a national holiday. In 1863, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday to be celebrated on the last Thursday of November, seeking to unify a divided nation. In 1941, the U.S. Congress officially established Thanksgiving as the fourth Thursday in November.


Traditions and Customs

Thanksgiving is rich with traditions and customs that have been passed down through generations. While individual families may have their unique ways of celebrating, certain elements are nearly universal.


The centerpiece of Thanksgiving is the grand feast, which typically includes roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green beans, and pumpkin pie. The turkey, often referred to as the “Thanksgiving turkey,” is the star of the meal, symbolizing the bounty and prosperity of the harvest season. The preparation of this meal is often a communal activity, with family members contributing various dishes and recipes.


Thanksgiving Day parades are a significant part of the holiday’s celebration, with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City being the most famous. This parade features giant character balloons, elaborate floats, marching bands, and performances by Broadway stars, drawing millions of viewers both in person and on television. The parade has become an integral part of the holiday, marking the official start of the Christmas season.


Football has become synonymous with Thanksgiving, with the NFL hosting several games on Thanksgiving Day. Families and friends gather around the television to watch the games, adding a spirited and competitive element to the holiday. The tradition of Thanksgiving football dates back to the early 20th century and continues to be a beloved part of the celebration.

Giving Thanks

At its core, Thanksgiving is about expressing gratitude. Many families have traditions of going around the table and sharing what they are thankful for, fostering a sense of appreciation and reflection. This practice helps reinforce the holiday’s original intent of giving thanks for the harvest and the blessings of the past year.

Volunteering and Charity

Thanksgiving is also a time for giving back to the community. Many people volunteer at soup kitchens, food banks, and other charitable organizations, helping to provide meals for those in need. This spirit of generosity and community service embodies the holiday’s values of gratitude and compassion.

Cultural Significance

Thanksgiving holds profound cultural significance in America, serving as a time for family reunions, reflection, and community. It transcends religious and ethnic boundaries, making it a unifying holiday for Americans of all backgrounds.

Family and Togetherness

For many, Thanksgiving is a rare opportunity for family members to come together, often traveling long distances to be with loved ones. This emphasis on family and togetherness is a cornerstone of the holiday, providing a sense of belonging and connection.

Reflection and Gratitude

The practice of giving thanks encourages individuals to reflect on their lives and appreciate the positive aspects, even amidst challenges. This focus on gratitude can have a profound impact on mental and emotional well-being, fostering a more positive outlook.

Historical Awareness

Thanksgiving also serves as a reminder of America’s history, particularly the early interactions between European settlers and Native Americans. While the holiday celebrates cooperation and gratitude, it also prompts reflection on the complex and often painful history of colonization and its impact on indigenous peoples. Many Native Americans observe a National Day of Mourning on Thanksgiving, highlighting the need for a more nuanced understanding of the holiday’s history.

Modern-Day Celebrations

Thanksgiving has evolved over the years, with contemporary celebrations reflecting the diversity and changing dynamics of American society. While traditional elements remain central, new customs and practices have emerged.


“Friendsgiving” is a relatively recent trend where friends gather to celebrate Thanksgiving together, often before or after the official holiday. This practice is especially popular among young adults and those who cannot be with their families, providing an opportunity to enjoy the holiday with their chosen family.

Cultural Variations

As America becomes more diverse, Thanksgiving meals and traditions have incorporated elements from various cultures. Families may include dishes from their ethnic backgrounds alongside traditional Thanksgiving fare, creating a rich and varied culinary experience.

Sustainability and Health

There is a growing emphasis on sustainability and health-conscious practices in modern Thanksgiving celebrations. Many people opt for organic, locally-sourced ingredients and healthier versions of traditional dishes. This shift reflects broader societal trends towards environmental awareness and personal well-being.

Virtual Gatherings

The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced new ways of celebrating Thanksgiving, with many families opting for virtual gatherings to stay connected while maintaining social distancing. While the pandemic has posed challenges, it has also highlighted the importance of adaptability and resilience in maintaining traditions.

See also: How Long Does An American Holiday Visa Last


Thanksgiving stands out as the most celebrated holiday in America due to its rich history, cherished traditions, and deep cultural significance. It is a time for family, gratitude, and reflection, fostering a sense of community and connection that transcends individual differences. As the holiday continues to evolve, it remains a powerful reminder of the values that unite Americans and the importance of giving thanks for the blessings in life. Whether through a traditional feast, a heartfelt reflection, or a new and innovative celebration, Thanksgiving continues to hold a special place in the hearts of many, embodying the spirit of gratitude and togetherness that defines the holiday.


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