Thanksgiving: What is It?

This is the sixth year in row that I’ve missed Thanksgiving, and I’m starting to forget the point.  The first one didn’t matter (since I never particularly cared for the holiday), and the only thing I really missed was everyone taking time off of work and school.

This year, I spent Thanksgiving in the bike-filled city of Amsterdam.

The second year was the time I was coerced into hosting a party with my neighbor, and my biggest memory is how messy my kitchen was at the end.

After that, it really just started becoming Thursday.  A dark, cold Thursday.  And it was business as usual (no days off).

But, I’ve heard a wide range of confused opinions about the purpose of Thanksgiving by people from other countries, and it seems to be the second most confusing aspect of American culture.  The first is baseball, of course, but that’s a topic for another day.

So, I did a very unprofessional poll and quickly reached out to a few international friends on Facebook.  The results were impressive!  But, I promised not to say their name, only their country.

Question 1:  What is the purpose of the holiday (basically, why was it started)?

“To celebrate the first harvest in America which didn't go so well and was only saved by the food contributions of local native Americans.” – Australia

“Purpose of the holiday is to eat.” – A country in Eastern Europe

“As far as I recall it was first celebrated by the Pilgrims (nooo idea who they are) when they invited to their dinner table the Indians so celebrate, I guess the new colonies, and peace and so.” – Central European, now living in Denmark

“The purpose is to thank God for good things in your life, and I can only recall that the pilgrims started it for the previous year's harvest.” - Hungary

My response:  After another brief amount of digging (to add to my current knowledge), there are a lot of different reasons.  Most seem to agree that the American holiday directly comes from the harvest celebration by some of the first settlers in what is now the United States.  However, it seems that “Thanksgiving” was a more general religious celebration that was used for various occasions, and it’s far deeper than I’d like to go here.

Thanksgiving would be pretty awesome in the Van Loon House in Amsterdam!

Question 2:  How do people celebrate it?

“Family get-togethers on the last Thursday of November.” – Australia

“People are celebrating while eating.”  – A country in Eastern Europe

“It’s a family thing, big dinner, huge meal, has the same value there as Xmas dinner for us at home I think.” – Central European, now living in Denmark

“It's a holiday and people get together with their families and having a feast at where everyone thanks God for something.” – Hungary

My response:  Everyone did pretty great on this one.  It did show the common misbelief that it’s on the last Thursday of November, when it’s actually the fourth Thursday (which usually makes it the last one – but not always).  Also, they missed two key points that always pop into my mind.  The first is how families are brought together, and it tends to bring up heated debates about politics, religion, and other sensitive topics.  Second, everyone loves to watch (and play) American football!

Living abroad basically forces you to give up on Thanksgiving.

Question 3:  What do people eat on Thanksgiving?

“Turkey, cranberry sauce, yams, apple pie.” – Australia

“Turkey, sweet potatoes, and turkey.” – A country in Eastern Europe

“They eat oven baked turkey, the best version is with stuffing made by the females in the family with roasted potatoes or other veggies.” – Central European, now living in Denmark

“Turkey duh... actually I don't know anything else, it's all about the turkey in the stories.” – Hungary

My response:  Again, they got it!  As far as I’m concerned, the only rule is that you have to have turkey.  There are the common things like mashed potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry sauce, but every family has their own traditions that they love/hate.  Also, plenty of pies for dessert.  I love pumpkin and pecan, in case you’re curious…

So, what do you think (whether you’re from the US or not)?  What would you add to their answers and mine?  I’m really asking because, well, I’m pretty disconnected from Thanksgiving…


But there are always plenty of excuses to have a nice dinner.

Dutch word of the day:


This is pronounced “Call-coon”, and it’s the word for the most Thanksgiving of birds, the turkey.  These are quite rare in the Netherlands, so we went to a little “Friendsgiving” dinner this year where the main bird was the much more affordable chicken.