Thanksgiving, or Thanksgiving Day, is a holiday celebrated in the United States on the fourth Thursday in November. It has been an annual tradition since 1863, when, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of "Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens", to be celebrated on Thursday, November 26. As a federal and public holiday in the U.S., Thanksgiving is one of the major holidays of the year. Together with Christmas and New Year, Thanksgiving is a part of the broader holiday season.
New York is teeming with cultural traditions, and few are more visibly ingrained in the City’s history than the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. The iconic Turkey Day celebration marks the start of the holiday shopping season, and it features a parade of gigantic balloons of favorite characters from decades of popular culture – from Bugs Bunny to Buzz Lightyear – which floats from the Upper West Side down to Herald Square and has somehow come to symbolize the season. Performances from musicians, marching bands, and Broadway shows provide entertainment for the close to 3 million people who crowd New York’s streets in celebration each year. The parade is especially dangerous when it’s windy, as balloons can knock over lightpoles and other obstructions, but organizers have become much smarter about how to handle inclement weather.
The nation’s capital is a great spot to soak up American history on a decidedly American day. The District is full of attractions commemorating the men and women who have shaped the country, including George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, who had a direct hand in the birth and continuation of Thanksgiving, and Thomas Jefferson, who opposed the celebration of the holiday.
Turkey Day in D.C. isn’t just about looking back; it’s also about looking forward – specifically for a few lucky turkeys. In an act of holiday mercy, the President has pardoned a turkey each year since 1989, sending it to live out its days on a farm instead of meeting the same fate as the estimated 50 million of its winged brethren who end up on Thanksgiving dinner tables every year.
Tourists visiting the spot where the pilgrims are said to have made landfall from the Mayflower are often underwhelmed by the size of Plymouth Rock. The town makes up for its humble stone with a three-day Thanksgiving celebration that spans the entire weekend before the holiday. Many trace the modern Thanksgiving holiday back to a meal shared between the pilgrims at Plymouth Plantation and the neighboring Wampanoag tribe, and modern residents as well as pilgrim reenactors at ‘Plimoth Plantation’ rekindle their town’s history with a parade, food festival, and concert series. Many traditional Thanksgiving staples weren’t available to the pilgrims, so stay away from Plymouth if you can’t handle a Thanksgiving without pie, cake, or dessert in general. Tourists visiting the spot where the pilgrims are said to have made landfall from the Mayflower are often underwhelmed by the size of Plymouth Rock. The town makes up for its humble stone with a three-day Thanksgiving celebration that spans the entire weekend before the holiday. Many trace the modern Thanksgiving holiday back to a meal shared between the pilgrims at Plymouth Plantation and the neighboring Wampanoag tribe, and modern residents as well as pilgrim reenactors at ‘Plimoth Plantation’ rekindle their town’s history with a parade, food festival, and concert series. Many traditional Thanksgiving staples weren’t available to the pilgrims, so stay away from Plymouth if you can’t handle a Thanksgiving without pie, cake, or dessert in general.
Chicago has its own Thanksgiving Day celebration – the McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade. It brings thousands of spectators to State Street in Downtown Chicago, boasting larger-than-life floats, marching bands and enough holiday pageantry to make any Midwest trip worthwhile. Besides the parade, visitors can also make the most of the festive holiday spirit with a visit to Chicago’s Christkindlmarket, which opens Thanksgiving week and is currently the largest German Christmas outside of Europe.
For those skeptical of the traditional tale of the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Mass., a trip to St. Augustine, Fla., for the holiday may prove worthwhile. St. Augustine is the oldest European-established city in the continental United States. On Sept. 8, 1565 – 56 years before the pilgrims shared a meal with Native Americans in Massachusetts – Spanish Admiral Pedro Menendez de Aviles and his fleet landed in St. Augustine. Menendez and his entourage celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving and then prepared a meal with natives. Thanksgiving in St. Augustine might not offer the same fanfare as in Plymouth, but the town’s pristine beaches are sure to serve as a respite for the advancing winter.
Like Las Vegas, Orlando might not be the first destination that comes to mind when you think of Thanksgiving, but with its countless family-friendly attractions, the city is always a popular travel spot during a school break. But Orlando has been on our radar all year for low prices and even with the regular boost from the break, it still isn’t in its peak travel months, so visitors should have no trouble finding a great deal. Thanksgiving visitors to Orlando can enjoy their long weekend at one of the many theme parks, including the Walt Disney World Resort, which begins its spectacular holiday festivities – including nightly fake snow – earlier in the month.
Football and Thanksgiving go together. The tradition of playing pro football on Thanksgiving actually dates back to the 1890s, but most people associate football on Thanksgiving with the Detroit Lions. With the exception of the years during World War II, the Detroit Lions have played a game on every Thanksgiving Day since 1934. Residents of Detroit don’t have much to be thankful for as unemployment in the city has been stuck around 12 percent for over a year now, but the Lions are playing their best football in years and a win over the Green Bay Packers on Thursday might help distract them from the economic malaise.
Thanksgiving weekend is also one of the best times of year to see the neon lights of Las Vegas. And with shoulder season beginning in mid-November and plenty of higher-star hotels to choose from, travelers are sure to find luxurious rooms at low prices. Additionally, Las Vegas is home to world-renowned chefs and restaurants, so visitors can get a delicious, classic Thanksgiving meal.
The residents of Dallas don’t just wait for the last Thursday in November to celebrate Thanksgiving—they built an entire downtown park dedicated to the spirit of giving thanks. Highlights of the park include the “Glory Window,” one of largest horizontally mounted stained-glass pieces in the world, and the Hall of Thanksgiving, which tells the story of the American tradition. The Thanks-Giving Square Foundation claims that gratitude is “their atitude,” and in keeping with their obsession with giving thanks, they distribute the Spirit of Thanks-Giving Award to luminaries from around the world who promote appreciation as a global value. Visitors can celebrate with this year’s winners, Prince Nikolaus and Princess Margaretha of Liechtenstein, who apparently take gratitude very seriously. For those in the Dallas area who would rather watch football than count their blessings, the Dallas Cowboys have had a game every Thanksgiving Day since 1966, and their new $1.15 billion stadium in neighboring Arlington would also make a great place to spend the holiday.
San Francisco has an average November high temperature of about 63 degrees. While this is still considered warm in comparison to many other destinations, the cool weather makes for a unique getaway, with the Bay Area fog setting up the beautiful and surreal autumn scenery. On the day after Thanksgiving, visitors can enjoy one of the city’s most spectacular lighting displays by taking part in the Macy's 24th Annual Tree Lighting event in Union Square.