Each year, Americans celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday on the fourth Thursday of November. Most families follow traditions begun on the first Thanksgiving, but many have their own traditions that they follow each year. Here are some of the common traditions associated with "Turkey Day."

Travel

One of the best things about Thanksgiving is spending time with family. Many people live far from family members and travel long distances by car, train, or plane to be with their loved ones. Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day of the year!

The Feast

Traditional foods are a large part of Thanksgiving celebrations. Many families include the entire family in the food preparation. Traditional foods include turkey, stuffing, gravy, sweet potatoes, cornbread, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce. Many people serve pie for dessert at the end of the meal. Popular pie flavors are pumpkin, pecan, sweet potato, and apple.

Vegetarian Foods

Some families choose to serve vegetarian Thanksgiving dinners instead of a stuffed turkey. Some people eat vegetarian turkey, which is made out of tofu. Others prefer to eat squash, salads, or other fruit and vegetable dishes.

The Wishbone

Some families include breaking the turkey's wishbone as part of their celebration. The wishbone is found attached to the breast meat in the turkey's chest. After the meat has been removed and the wishbone has had a chance to become dry and brittle, two people each take one end of the bone, make a wish, and pull. Whoever ends up with the larger part of the bone gets their wish!

The Turkey Pardon

Each year at Thanksgiving, the President of the United States receives a gift of a live turkey (along with an alternate in case something happens to the official turkey). At a White House ceremony, the president traditionally "pardons" the National Thanksgiving Turkey and the alternate turkeys, allowing them to live out the rest of their lives on a farm.

Helping Others

Many generous folks use Thanksgiving as an opportunity to help the less fortunate. Some people volunteer to serve food at homeless shelters on Thanksgiving Day and others donate to shelters or participate in canned food drives.

TV

Television also plays a part in Thanksgiving celebrations. Many families watch the New York City Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The parade includes marching bands, floats, songs and performances from Broadway musicals, and giant helium-filled balloons! People may also enjoy televised football games.

After the Meal

After the feast families often do additional activities. Some like to take walks after eating such a large meal. Some people take naps. Others sit down together to play board or card games together.

Fast Facts

  • The largest pumpkin pie ever made weighed 2,020 pounds (916.25 kilograms).
  • A ripe cranberry will bounce.
  • All turkeys and chickens have wishbones.
  • Canadians celebrate their own Thanksgiving every October.
  • Abraham Lincoln declared a national day of Thanksgiving in 1863.
  • The first Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade was held in 1924.

Erin Whitmer contributed to this story.