The holiday season is all about traditions, and perhaps there is no day that is more rooted in tradition than Thanksgiving. Yes, every year families gather around the dining room table to enjoy one another’s company and eat traditional Thanksgiving dishes like turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and green bean casserole. But Thanksgiving is a day that’s about so much more than just food traditions.
People across America not only eat differently around Thanksgiving, they also partake in differing Turkey Day traditions. In New York City, no Thanksgiving week is complete without watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons get inflated uptown. In Washington D.C., the presidential turkey pardon is the peak of Thanksgiving festivities. And all across America, families slip on their running shoes and snuggle up in jackets to partake in a pre-dinner 5k (better known as a turkey trot).
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade may be the most famous Thanksgiving procession, but it’s far from the first. Currently called the 6ABC - Dunkin' Donuts Thanksgiving Day Parade, Philadelphia’s annual Thanksgiving celebration has the honor of being America’s original Thanksgiving parade. It’s run began in 1920 under the name the Gimbels Thanksgiving Day Parade. Like most parades of its type, it features local marching bands, celebrities, floats, balloons, and Santa Claus at the end of the lineup.
Plymouth, Massachusetts, is where the pilgrims landed, so it’s logical that they go big for Thanksgiving. Over the three-day weekend preceding Turkey Day, Plymouth hosts its annual America's Hometown Thanksgiving Parade, a New England Thanksgiving food festival, and informational sessions about what the first Thanksgiving was really like, with representatives from the Wampanoag tribe and colonial interpreters.
The Thanksgiving celebrations continue in Plymouth through the holiday itself. Those who are lucky enough to score tickets can have dinner at the Plimoth Plantation. Their America's Thanksgiving Dinner features Pilgrim role players and Native interpreters as well as a Thanksgiving menu full of vintage dishes such as Indian pudding.
Football and Thanksgiving are forever linked, perhaps because both things are so all-American. Since the league’s inception in 1920, the NFL has hosted major football games on the fourth Thursday in November. The Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys always host other teams on Thanksgiving, and families in Detroit and Dallas will forego time spent with their weird family members in order to tailgate at the big game.
If football isn’t your thing, head to the University of Alaska Anchorage for the Great Alaska Shootout. Since 1978, this eight team NCAA basketball tournament has taken place over Thanksgiving week. Unfortunately, this year may be your final chance to catch the Great Alaska Shootout. UAA announced that 2017 would be the final year it’s funding the tournament, so book your last-minute trip now.
This is the big one. Whether you watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV or line the streets of Manhattan to watch in person, viewing this annual march through Midtown is a tradition all across America. Locals in NYC will go uptown the night before Thanksgiving to watch the massive balloons get inflated.
Before Americans across the country pass out from eating too much turkey and pumpkin pie, they run a 5k for good measure. Turkey trots, as these Thanksgiving morning races are called, are a popular tradition from sea to shining sea. The turkey trot is particularly popular in Texas. Races in Dallas and Austin have over 20,000 participants each.
The holidays are a time to reflect on what you have and help out those who have a little less. Nationwide, families will give back to those less fortunate by volunteering at soup kitchens, donating to food banks, and these 60 other ways to fight hunger in America.
Washington, D.C., is the center of modern America, so of course it’s filled with its own Thanksgiving traditions. Perhaps the most famous is the White House turkey pardon, in which the president “saves” a lucky bird from a fate at the Thanksgiving table and sends him to a farm instead. The tradition was formalized and turned into an annual event under President George H.W. Bush in 1989, though presidents had been sending gifted turkeys to farms with some regularity since the Kennedy administration. For this and more White House Thanksgiving traditions through the years, click here.