Thanksgiving Day 2016, the 5 Ws and 1H: Where and how to celebrate US national festival

Thanksgiving Day falls on Thursday 24 November this year.

Thanksgiving Day 2016:
A Buzz Lightyear float makes it's way down 6th Ave. during the 87th Macy's Thanksgiving day parade in New York November 28, 2013 Reuters

Thanksgiving Day marks the beginning of the annual holiday season in the United States. It is celebrated every year on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States, the day before Black Friday. Several other places around the world, including Canada, Singapore, Philippines and Germany also observe similar celebrations.

In 2016, the Thanksgiving Day falls on November 24, Thursday.

How did the Thanksgiving tradition originate?

This Thanksgiving Day can be traced back to the 1621 when the Plymouth colonists or the religious refugees from England, known popularly as the Pilgrims, invited the local Native Americans to a harvest feast after a particularly successful growing season. It was believed to be one of their first celebrations of the holiday.

In 1623, the pilgrims celebrated their second Thanksgiving Day, but the day was given its official status by George Washington in 1789.

Thanksgiving Day in the United States was celebrated on various dates throughout history. From the time of the Founding Fathers until the time of Lincoln, the date of the Thanksgiving festival varied from state to state. By the beginning of the 19th century, the final Thursday in November had become the customary date in most US states.

Who set the date of Thanksgiving Day?

Thanksgiving was first celebrated on the same date by all states in 1863 by a presidential proclamation of Abraham Lincoln. But, later in 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed the national Thanksgiving Day from the last Thursday in November to the fourth Thursday by signing a joint resolution of Congress.

Thanksgiving Day 2016: The 5Ws and 1H of the US national festival
U.S. troops pray before eating during a Thanksgiving meal at a NATO base in Kabul, November 28, 2013. Reuters

What happens on this day?

On this day, the US citizens gather together and celebrate the American traditions which have been adopted across the Atlantic by Brits. The festival emphasizes on family and harvests. People consume millions of turkey every year on Thanksgiving Day. The festival is celebrated by having good food which includes turkey, along with mashed potatoes, stuffing and gravy. This meal concludes with the breaking of a wishbone and making a wish. Sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and cornbread often accompany the meal. Desserts, primarily apple, pumpkin, pecan and sweet potato pies, follow decadent dinners. People, who do not consume meat, substitute traditional meats with items, such as tofu, salads and other fruits and vegetables.

Why do Americans consume turkey on this day?

There are different theories regarding turkey consumption on Thanksgiving Day. One theory says that the choice of Turkey was inspired by Queen Elizabeth I. It is believed that the Queen received the news that Spanish ships had sunk on their way to attack England while she was having dinner. She was so thrilled and happy with the news she ordered to serve another goose. Some people claim that early US settlers roasted turkeys as they were inspired by her actions.

The second theory talks about a letter which was written by Pilgrim Edward Winslow in 1621. The letter was about that now-famous meal which mentioned a turkey hunt before the dinner.

And finally, the third one says that as wild turkeys are native to North America, hence they were a natural choice for the early settlers.

Thanksgiving Day 2016: The 5Ws and 1H of the US national festival
U.S. President Barack Obama joins his daughters Sasha (3rd R) and Malia (R) as they pardon National Thanksgiving Turkey "Popcorn", on the 66th anniversary of the ceremony, on the North Portico of the White House in Washington, November 27, 2013. Reuters

Which other celebrations mark the festival?

In New York City, the Macy's parade marks the celebration of Thanksgiving Day with enormous balloons, a pageant of floats and marching bands. The parade originally started from 145th Street in Harlem and ended at Herald Square, but the new route introduced with the 2012 parade.

The tradition started in 1924 after the employees of Macy's department store wanted to celebrate the Thanksgiving Day with the type of festivals celebrated in Europe. They were the first generation, who dressed in interesting costumes and travelled along with Central Park Zoo animals and creative floats for six miles.