If you are an international student living in the US for the first time, you might be a little confused about as Thanksgiving approaches: at the same time you are very thankful for having a long weekend ahead of you even if you do not fully understand why people celebrate such a holiday in the United States.
Christmas and Easter are easier, most of us either celebrate them in our home countries or are used to seeing such festivities in American movies – after all, who is not familiar with our generous Santa Claus or the charismatic Easter bunny? Thanksgiving, however, is a little less promoted outside the US, and most of us end up knowing about the existence of this date, but not understanding completely its roots
To try to help people with such difficulties, I compiled some data from the internet in the form of “everything you always wanted to know about Thanksgiving, but felt too embarrassed to ask an American”. I hope it helps!
I know this sounds pretty obvious, but the name Thanksgiving refers to the act of giving thanks to someone or something. That is why there is such a big tradition of asking and answering the question “What are you thankful for?” during this day.
After some research I found out that the following are NOT good answers to this question, so please make sure NOT to make use of any of them:
“I am thankful for not having MGEC classes today”
“I am thankful for not having to be in Philadelphia right now”
“I am thankful for not being socially forced to talk to that extremely boring girl sitting by my side in OPIM class”
“I am thankful for finally leaving my country and coming to the land of Taco Bell and Chipotle”
By now you might be wondering: why do Americans have such a strong tradition of saying thanks every year on this specific date? The story is at Plymouth, in the land of Massachusetts, in the year of 1621, the Pilgrims (English dudes who began immigrating to the US in the 1620s and 1630s) had a good harvest and were very thankful that they had made it to the New World and were actually surviving and prospering. So, in order to celebrate all of this, they decided to have a harvest festival and a day of thanks.
Well, that “small festival” became an annual tradition that quickly started to spread to other parts of the country – to the point that in 1789, George Washington, then President of the United States, proclaimed the first nation-wide thanksgiving celebration in America – marking November 26th of that year “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God”.
In 1863, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens” – a testament to the nationwide importance that this date had achieved, and also the stronger religious context associated with it. In summary: you might see a lot of focus on eating turkey and watching football on TV during this holiday (I also love to do both things) but try not to forget the real meaning behind it!
Another important fact about Thanksgiving is that it is always celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. That is good news for most Americans, because it ensures a long weekend for those who manage to also get their Friday free – in 2007, 78% of business and government workers were given Friday as a paid holiday, additionally to Thanksgiving-day itself. MBA students like us, who are now used to long weekends every week, might not fully appreciate this fact, but overworked Americans certainly do!
Having large meals with your family is a big part of Thanksgiving and, as mentioned before, eating turkey is an important component of such meals. This leads to several jokes about turkeys every year – most of which I don’t get…I especially don’t get it why they show live turkeys on TV during NFL games every year, and then the commentators say something like “well, those are the lucky ones that survived one more year” or something like this… What does that have to do with professional football??? Is that even funny?? I may not fully understand this holiday after all.
Fun fact: every year, the President of the United States will “pardon” a turkey, which spares the bird’s life and ensures that it will spend the remainder of its years roaming freely on farmland. I guess its good news for one turkey but bad news for thousands…
The aforementioned day after Thanksgiving is popularly known as Black Friday, traditionally the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. On this day, most major retailers open extremely early (often at 4 am or earlier), and offer promotional sales to kick off the holiday shopping season. It has routinely been the busiest shopping day of the year since 2005. The day’s name actually originated here in our own Philadelphia, where it originally was used to describe the heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic which would occur on the day after Thanksgiving. All that being said, I definitely know some international girls who may not care about Thanksgiving, but who will certainly enjoy Black Friday a lot.
So be thankful, regardless of where you hail from, for your blessings, your family, the chance to be at Wharton, and if nothing else, deeply discounted merchandise this weekend!