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Thanksgiving: A guide for Zoni students

A float at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

As November comes to an end, it is time to celebrate one of the most beloved American holidays, Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving always occurs on the last Thursday of November, meaning that this year it is on November 28.  This Zoni Blog is a Thanksgiving Guide for Students! We will explain what Thanksgiving is; how it started and how it is celebrated. We will also look at how it has changed, give you tips for creating your own memorable celebration and tell you all you need to know about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. So, let’s start at the beginning…

The backstory

In September 1620, a ship called the Mayflower left Plymouth in England. On board were 102 passengers. Most of these passengers were religious agitators (this means they didn’t follow the main religion of the time) and wanted to live somewhere where they could practice their faith freely. Other people on board came from poorer backgrounds and hoped to make their fortunes in the New World.

It took them 66 days to sail to America. It wasn’t an easy or comfortable crossing and they were all eager to get to shore. As a result, they dropped anchor far further north than they had planned. Around a month later, the Mayflower sailed into Massachusetts Bay, where the passengers began to set up a village at Plymouth. It was these passengers that became known as the Pilgrims.

When the pilgrims moved into their village they were surprised to be visited by an Abenaki Indian who spoke English. This man later returned with another English-speaking Native American, Squanto (Pawtuxet tribe). Squanto had been kidnapped by an English sea captain and sold as a slave before escaping and returning to his homeland.

It was Squanto who taught the Pilgrims how to grow corn, tap maple syrup, and about which plants were poisonous to eat. He also helped make an alliance between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe. This alliance lasted over 50 years and is said to be one of the only times true peace and harmony existed between the settlers and Native America peoples.

The first Thanksgiving

After successfully harvesting their crops, Governor William Bradford organized a 3-day long feast to celebrate. He included a group Native American allies in the celebrations. This party was held in November 1621 and is now referred to as the “first Thanksgiving”.

As the Pilgrims did not have an oven and it is believed that their sugar supplies were very low, the first Thanksgiving dinner was liked prepared used Native American spices and techniques and certainly did not include desserts, which seems funny in today’s context where things like pumpkin pie are such a big part of the Thanksgiving feast!

Thanksgiving becomes a holiday

There are various stories and mentions of Thanksgiving in American history. Therefore, it is actually quite hard to work out exactly when Thanksgiving became a recognised holiday. One of the earliest references (found in the US National Archive) states that George Washington ordered Thursday 26 November 1789 to be a Day of Public Thanksgiving.

However, Thanksgiving wasn’t properly adopted by the colonies until 1817. New York was the first state to officially create a Thanksgiving holiday. Other states soon followed, however each celebrated it on a different day.

In 1827, Sarah Josepha Hale (who wrote the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb”) started campaigning to make Thanksgiving a unified national holiday. Finally, in 1863, Abraham Lincoln scheduled Thanksgiving for the final Thursday in November.  Between 1939 and 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday the holiday to the 3rd Thursday in November. He hoped that moving to date would help to ease the Great Depression. But people hated the date change and in 1941 he had to change it back to the final Thursday in November.

A guide to Thanksgiving: a traditional meal

Thanksgiving today

For most Americans, Thanksgiving is based around on cooking and sharing a meal with family and friends. It is fair to say that a fat Turkey is the symbol of Thanksgiving. It is impossible to think about Thanksgiving these days without imagining a turkey on the table. However, no one really knows if the Pilgrims ate turkey. It is more likely that they enjoyed deer, seals and even lobster! According to the National Turkey Federation it is estimated that around 90% of Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving. Other Thanksgiving foods include stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.

Another funny Thanksgiving tradition is the pardoning of a turkey. No one is exactly sure when this started but it is now tradition that the president of the United States “pardons” one or two Thanksgiving turkeys each year. This means that the president can choose to save a turkey that would otherwise be eaten. The saved turkey is instead sent to farm to live peacefully without fear of being eaten.

Of course, we must also remember that sometimes history is not entirely accurate. Some people, especially Native Americans do not agree with how the Thanksgiving story is presented or taught in schools. They believe that the accepted story ignores that for much of history the relationship between the Pilgrims and the native peoples was full of conflict and resulted in the deaths of millions of Native American peoples. Since the seventies, people have used Thanksgiving Day to protest this inaccurate portrayal of history.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Black Friday is the unofficial name of the Friday after Thanksgiving. Since about 1952 Black Friday has been considered the first day of the holiday shopping season and is the busiest shopping day of the year in the United States! The term “Black Friday” didn’t really become popular until the sixties and was first used to describe the crazy pedestrian and vehicle traffic jamming up the streets on the day after Thanksgiving. Black Friday is known for sales and most stores, in particular the large chain stores will offer their biggest discounts of the year. In preparation, many retailers bring in extra stock, hire extra staff and extend their opening hours. People have been known to camp outside in order to get the best deals and each year images are captured of stampedes of people as shops open their doors. There have even been reports of violence as people lose control and fight for limited stock!  Perhaps, it is better to wait for Cyber Monday instead?

Cyber Monday refers to the Monday after Thanksgiving where retailers offer great deals and special promotions online. Much less crazy than Black Friday, Cyber Monday means you can shop without the big queues and people going sale-crazy! Cyber Monday is a pretty new event, having started in 2005! Of course like Black Friday, the best Cyber Monday deals are first-come-first-served (this means that the quantity is limited) meaning that you still might need to shop at 12.01am to save the most money, but at least you can do it in your pyjamas from the comfort of your home!

How to create your own Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful for all that you have. Why not get together with your friends and share a meal? You don’t need to cook a turkey or a pumpkin pie – the point is to come together! A number of restaurants offer Thanksgiving set menus or, why not celebrate at home? An easy way to do this is to assign each guest a course. For example, ask someone to bring an appetizer, someone else to help with the main course, and someone else to bring dessert? Creating a lovely Thanksgiving doesn’t need to cost a lot – just a little time in the kitchen!

An important part of your Zoni experience is learning about, and experiencing American holidays! On November 27, all Zoni campuses will hold Thanksgiving celebrations. Students will share a meal with their classmates and participate in Thanksgiving-focussed lessons and discussions. Photographs of these celebrations will be shared on Zoni’s facebook and Instagram channels.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Students based at one of Zoni’s campuses in New York or New Jersey can also attend the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade! This parade is known as the most popular holiday parade in America! The parade was first held in 1924 and has since become the highlight of the holiday weekend! Each year the parade attracts more than 3.5 million people! On top of this a further 50 million people watch live on TV (Watch it on NBC)! The parade typically features marching bands and incredible floats decorated to reflect pop culture! As well as floats, giant balloons shaped like cartoon characters are also walked down the streets.

A number of celebrities and performers will also be part of the parade. This year includes: Black Eyed Peas, Ciara, TLC, Kelly Rowland, Lea Michelle (Glee), Ozuna, K-pop sensations NCT 127 and many, many more! This parade is really not to be missed! This year the parade starts at 9am and goes until approximately noon. For students wanting to see it live, the parade route can be found here. Central Park West between W75th and W59th and also along 6th Avenue between W59th and W38th are known as some of the best places to view the parade. However, given that millions of people go to watch the parade, I recommend getting up very early, find a spot near a café (so you can get warm coffee) and wait for the parade to start.

Now you know all about Thanksgiving - how it started and how it has changed! We hope that our 'Thanksgiving Guide for Students' has given you  enough information to really enjoy this important American holiday, whether you follow tradition or do it your own way! Zoni Language Centers is thankful for each and every one of our students and wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Zoni students enjoy Thanksgiving in class