Thanksgiving is one of those things that looks really weird for those who don’t live in the US. We see it in a lot of films and it is a very important celebration for them. Schools stop classes, workers get a day off and people travel for hours just to go back home for a meal of turkey and some vegetables on the side. Christmas and Easter are things most of us can related to, but what is Thanksgiving exactly?
What is Thanksgiving?
We first need to go back in time to Britain where the original pagan celebrations of harvest took place. They happened around late September and early October. When Christianity came to the island it turned into a Christian celebration.
When the reformation started most church holidays were replaced with days of humiliation and days of thanksgiving. Days of humiliation were a way to say sorry to God and days of thanksgiving were a way to thank God for everything good that he had given the people. The harvest celebrations became a thanksgiving day. Another thanksgiving day was the 5th of November.
When pilgrims went from the UK to America they were used to celebrating the harvest and used that celebration to also be thankful for their good trip across the ocean. Everyone celebrated on different dates until 1789 when Washington proclaimed the first official thanksgiving celebration “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God”. In 1863 Lincoln made the last Thursday of November the official date, and later in 1941 Roosevelt moved it to the fourth Thursday in November.
Why is not celebrated in the UK?
The American thanksgiving is not celebrated in the UK because no one had to be thankful for their new land and good ocean trip. However, the harvest part of it is still celebrated by many churches and most schools. Most people don’t celebrate the harvest because most of us don’t work in farms and the harvest doesn’t really mean much to us anymore even if all the food we get from shops comes from it.
Churches celebrate with special services, collections to support the church, food bank collections and sometimes special gatherings where parishioners all share food together.
Schools usually spend the month of September or October learning about the harvest and farm life. Some schools have special costume days and visits to local farms or markets. Others teach their children how to make bread or a corn dolly. And most have food bank collections and a special harvest assembly.
In some towns there are still large harvest celebrations that take place with dancing, food sharing, stalls and usually food contests. Food bank collections are also an important part of them.
How can I celebrate Thanksgiving in the UK?
The easiest way is probably to host your own dinner. Here you can find a lot of menus with all the recipes.
If you prefer to have the food cooked for you, most large hotels usually have special Thanksgiving menus for their international guests. Menus are usually very similar to a Sunday roast but with American influence. Fine dinning restaurants and celebrity-chef restaurants usually have special menus as well. But don’t expect a traditional meal, they’ll usally take the essence of thanksgiving food and give it their own spin. American restaurants are the ones to go for a more American-style meal, though sometimes they too adapt them for their UK customers.
If you would like to take part in the religious aspect of thanksgiving, St. Paul’s Cathedral always has a special service during the morning of Thursday. Services are free to attend, but they can get busy so arrive early.
Plymouth, where the Mayflower set sail from, has been hosting a selection of special events for thanksgiving for the past few years. They usually announce events with short notice, check here to see what’s happening this year.
If you know if any other UK thanksgiving celebration, let us know and we’ll add them to the article.