Why Do We Celebrate Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving is one of the most significant days in the United States. Millions of people travel every year to celebrate this date with their families, and our Hispanic community is no exception. 

We’ve embraced this holiday by adding our own special touch. Read on to learn more about why Thanksgiving is celebrated and how you can add your own sabor to it!

What’s Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving began as a Protestant Christian celebration to thank God for a good harvest. Its cultural relevance is such that most Americans, regardless of their religion and ethnic background, celebrate it with a great deal of excitement every year. Many members of our Hispanic community also get together on this day to share our gratitude.

History of Thanksgiving Day

The origin of this holiday dates back to 1621, one year after the English settlers arrived on the Mayflower ship in what’s now Massachusetts. Their first year in America was full of hardships, and half of the settlers died during a harsh winter. 

The following year they had a successful harvest, which allowed them to feed themselves during winter, giving them an excellent reason to celebrate and feel thankful. The first Thanksgiving celebration lasted three days, where the settlers shared dried fruit, pumpkins, and turkey with the local Native Americans, who helped them survive in that first challenging year. 

The celebration wasn’t celebrated again until many years later; it was gradually replicated in different states until it was declared a national holiday in the twentieth century.

Some key dates to understand the importance of Thanksgiving are: 

  • 1789: George Washington, the first president of the United States, declared Thanksgiving Day as a national holiday celebrated on November 26th.
  • 1863: Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day. 
  • 1941: Thanksgiving was declared a legal holiday by U.S. Congress.

Current Significance

Modernization of life has changed the original meaning of this holiday. Today, very few feel thankful for a good harvest, but it's still the perfect occasion for families and friends to get together and be grateful for the good things in their life.

In addition, since Congress declared Thanksgiving a national holiday, this date also has commercial significance; it’s now a cultural reference to start Christmas shopping. 

When Is It Celebrated?

Before 1789, Thanksgiving was celebrated on different days, although always in the fall season. However, when George Washington declared it a national holiday, it was celebrated on Thursday, November 26. Since then, Thanksgiving Day has been celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November each year, shortly before the beginning of winter and the Christmas holidays.

Where Do People Commemorate Thanksgiving

The United States is where the Thanksgiving tradition began and where it's most celebrated. However, it's also a national holiday in Canada and celebrated in countries such as Liberia and Israel. The American community abroad never misses an opportunity to celebrate it wherever they are. 

How Is It Celebrated?

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Thanksgiving is a family and community celebration where the primary purpose is to spend time with your loved ones. There are several traditions surrounding it, including:

Family Reunions

Perhaps the most important thing about Thanksgiving is that family members regularly get together to spend time with each other, no matter how far apart they live. This means that it’s often one of the busiest times of the year for travel. 

It’s also probably why this tradition became so popular among Hispanic families migrating to the United States; we’re always excited to celebrate with our families!

Traditional Food

For many American families, Thanksgiving is the biggest meal of the year—even bigger than Christmas! Some of the most common traditional dishes are sweet potato pies, apple and pumpkin pies, mashed potatoes, and, most famously, the oven-roasted turkey.

This last dish is so important that it is a must at any Thanksgiving dinner. That's why this date has also been jokingly called Turkey Day

Keep in mind: Although most Hispanic families try to stick to the traditional Thanksgiving menu, we usually combine it with our typical dishes. That's why at Hispanic Thanksgiving dinners, you can find: tamales, pozole, cochinillo, rice, beans, arepas, and other specialties of Latin American cuisine. The idea is to eat what we like and enjoy it as a family!

The Turkey Pardoning Ritual

The turkey is so relevant in celebrating Thanksgiving that one of the most important traditions is the "Presidential Turkey Pardon.”

Initiated by President Abraham Lincoln, this tradition consists of giving a turkey to the current President of the United States, who then grants it a pardon so that the turkey can be saved from becoming dinner and instead live a “happy and fulfilling life.” After the ceremony, this lucky turkey is sent to a zoo where it'll spend the rest of its life.

Giving Back

Thanksgiving’s all about being grateful for all we have and for the loved ones around us, so many people consider helping others an essential part of the holiday. Because of this, many people spend part of the day doing charitable actions, such as organizing meals or collecting donations for organizations that support people in need. 

Keep in mind: Many Hispanic community members use this day to donate to immigration organizations and food banks. Please, consider doing the same if you can afford to. Thanksgiving is one of those special days when it's important to support each other, especially those who are starting a new life in the United States.


Perhaps the most eye-catching Thanksgiving tradition is watching the parades staged in major cities across the U.S.. Among them all, the parade organized by Macy's in New York stands out above the rest. It runs for 4 kilometers along a street where you can see large floats and giant balloons of cartoon characters, such as Mickey Mouse, Pokemon, Hello Kitty, and Spiderman. 

Keep in mind: Thanksgiving parades also take place in other cities, like Philadelphia, Houston, and Chicago. If you're in one of these cities, don't miss the opportunity to enjoy this striking spectacle and take the kids with you for an unforgettable experience.

Black Friday

This holiday is also the kickoff to the Christmas shopping season. The day after Thanksgiving is popularly known as "Black Friday," when retailers and department stores offer significant discounts. This tradition has attracted a lot of attention because it's common to see thousands of people rushing to the stores early in the morning to enjoy the offers.

Frequently Asked Questions

Many people worry about having the perfect Thanksgiving dinner. Here are some tips to make it an unforgettable event for you and your family. 

What to Wear for Thanksgiving?

As Thanksgiving dinner is a tradition spent with family and friends, most people want to make a good impression by dressing formally. If you have any doubts about how to dress for Thanksgiving, here are a few quick tips: 

  • The traditional colors for this date are beige, wine red, and brown, which will give you a look of sobriety and elegance.
  • Thanksgiving season occurs during the fall, so a good option is to wear a sweater or a jacket in formal colors.
  • Another good option is to wear turtleneck sweatshirts combined with jackets or a suit; you’ll look fantastic! 

We recommend choosing a comfortable outfit, which is essential to enjoying this special moment with your family and friends.

Decorating Your Table

It's common practice to decorate your dining room with a thanksgiving theme, just as we do at Christmas. Here are a few general recommendations: 

  • Combine sober colors such as cherry, beige, brown, and black with some shades of green.
  • Make sure to harmonize the colors you plan to use. 
  • Don't over decorate; remember that most of the time, less is more
  • Your decoration doesn’t have to be limited to the table. Consider the entrance, living room, and other areas where your guests will be sitting.

How to Prepare the Turkey?

There are many ways to prepare the most crucial dish of Thanksgiving dinner. In our Hispanic community, we take pride in roasting the turkey with our own flavors. Here are four options:

  1. Traditional Style. It's the best known and most common recipe; apples, celery, onions, bacon strips, grapes, cranberries, and chicken broth for the stuffing. 
  2. The Mexican Way. If you like your food a little spicy, this Mexican-style turkey is a must on your Thanksgiving table as its main ingredients are three different types of chiles.   
  3. Miami Style. This is how many members of the Cuban community in the United States prepare turkey; its main ingredients are paprika, garlic powder, and brown sugar. 
  4. Dominican Turkey. Another option is the Dominican-style turkey, consisting of orange juice, olives, capers, raisins, potatoes, carrots, and tomato paste. 

All of these recipes are delicious and, while they may take time and patience to prepare, you'll find it's worth it when you see the smile on your loved ones’ faces. 

Now that you’re well informed about this important national holiday, we wish you a very special Thanksgiving with your family and friends. Remember that it's an occasion to be thankful for all we have and be empathetic with others. 

If you have more questions about this or other topics, please do not hesitate to contact our SABEResPODER experts: