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The basics
THE USA: Once you arrive

Thanksgiving in America

Hotcourses editor and former international student Alejandra tells us about her experience celebrating one of the biggest holidays in the United States, Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving in America

Probably the biggest holiday in the United States, Thanksgiving Day in America is a time to offer thanks, of family gatherings, holiday parades and abundant meals... a lot of them!

It might seem odd to have a big holiday less than a month before Christmas but Thanksgiving has deep historical roots for Americans...


A little history...

The whole tradition started when Pilgrims from the UK left British shores to embark on a dangerous adventure across the Atlantic towards the ‘New World’. The trip on the Mayflower ship lasted 65 days only to be concluded by the landing on deserted land of merciless winters.

The Mayflower population was decimated during the first year after their arrival. The first Thanksgiving was celebrated on 1621, when the Pilgrims flourished with plentiful food sources, thanks in large part to the friendship and guidance of their neighbours: the Abnaki Indians.

Thanksgiving is a day for Americans to gather with friends and family, and give thanks (as the name suggests) for what they have.


Thanksgiving Day activities

Thanksgiving is a public holiday on the fourth Thursday of November each year. On the day, families and friends gather to have a big meal at lunchtime or in the evening. The most popular Thanksgiving dinner staples are a large roasted turkey, cranberries, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie for desert. Consequently, the turkey production industry in the United States raises over 256 million turkeys every year!

Before the meal, families will sit down and watch an American Football game on television or even play a game themselves in their back garden. Mass public parades are also popular, complete with floats and much fanfare. The most well-known is the Macy Day’s Parade in New York City.


Over the years Thanksgiving has become a cross-cultural celebration, observed not only by Americans but by other countries around the world such as Canada, Liberia and Puerto Rico.


Black Friday

'Black Friday' is the name given to the day following Thanksgiving where most major stores (physical and online) have massive sales and discounts on a range of products. It's an openly commercial event which has become increasingly significant in recent years for those searching for a bargain; but it's brilliant if you're looking for a new laptop or tablet for your studies. Black Friday signals the start of the Christmas season for retailers and often Americans will line up outside stores for hours to get in as soon as possible to grab a deal!


What can international students do?

Many universities organise activities for international students on Thanksgiving Day since many domestic students will go home for the holiday. However, often international students will find that their new friends will invite you along to their family dinners though don’t necessarily expect this or invite yourself! You can always gather with other international students or those domestic students who choose not to go home for the holiday, and have your own big meal.

If you haven't got any plans and you're feeling charitable, you can find out about local soup kitchens which will be preparing and serving food to the homeless and less fortunate. Volunteering opportunities look great on a CV, but you can also meet new people and go to bed knowing that you've made a difference in someone's life for that day.


International students tell us about their Thanksgiving experiences....

“It is all about the Turkey and the marshmallows! .... But the best thing about it is that everyone goes home and spends time with their families. Everyone remembers the importance of family. I was brought along by my classmate to his family house and we ate loads. I even tried pumpkin pie for the first time... As an exchange student, I really didn’t think Thanksgiving was such deal, but it is.”

Sally, Scotland


“Everything is on sale! On Thanksgiving we went shopping during the day and then went for dinner with my friend. But in the evening all the shops are closed and the streets are as empty as ghost towns because everyone was in their homes celebrating Thanksgiving with their families.... it’s like Xmas day anywhere else.”

Wanvisa, from Thailand


“My host family took me to church with them and we had a special service. Nowadays, not many people see it as a religious celebration as it should be. But you could feel everywhere a sense of togetherness and friendship; my host family’s neighbours invited us to have dinner at their house and basically spent the whole weekend eating non-stop!”

Rosalba, from Venezuela



Read more:

Find out how Christmas is celebrated abroad


Study in the USA


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