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Living the Life

Thanksgiving

Every culture celebrates special occasions and holidays and whether secular or religious, these celebrations come with their own set of rituals and traditions. In the United States, Thanksgiving is arguably the biggest holiday and associated with many rites that can surprise and give expats pause.

Thanksgiving is not a unique American concept; many countries have similar celebrations that started as harvest festivals to give thanks and return to the land. In 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln officially designated the fourth Thursday of November as the Thanksgiving holiday, it was meant to unite the country then embroiled in the Civil War. Since then, the holiday has evolved to become more than gathering and enjoying the land’s bounty.

For many, the holiday actually starts on the Wednesday — the busiest travel day in the United States — as people join friends and family to celebrate the holiday. The Sunday after Thanksgiving is just as busy at the airports, train stations and on the roads as everyone tries to make it back for the Monday workday.

Food and feasting is definitely a ritual with a typical Thanksgiving Day dinner adding up to 3,000 calories — 1,000 calories more than a typical person’s entire day’s needs. And even though the first pilgrim’s Thanksgiving meal was likely more varied, turkey is now the protein of choice. Other typical Thanksgiving Day meal items (likely not found on the pilgrims’ table) include dressing or stuffing, mashed potatoes, bean casserole, yams, and pies galore: pumpkin, pecan, sweet potato, apple. Easy to see how the calories can add up.

Shrek Balloon at 2010 Macy's Day Parade

For many, watching the Macy's Day Parade is a Thanksgiving Day tradition.

Many expats may experience their first American Thanksgiving due to the generosity of friends or co-workers as adopting “orphans” and bringing them to the Thanksgiving Day’s dinner is a common practice — almost a tradition for some American families. Expats can then participate in other typical “traditions” like watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, football, or working out the strategy for the next big consumption event associated with Thanksgiving — Black Friday.

The day after Thanksgiving is the biggest shopping day in the United States and kicks off the official holiday spending season. Merchants have special door buster discounts to bring in the customers and expect the day to be their biggest profit maker. Stores are open very early in the morning — some are open so early that they were actually opened late from the night before. No matter how early, shoppers are lined up in search of bargains and ready to spend. Despite the hours, retailers are likely very thankful as the day’s receipts generally bring them into the black. Though for the consumer, with the crowds and the early hours, the bargains may not be that much of a thanks-giving.

Whether this is your first or your umpteenth Thanksgiving Day celebration, enjoy the company, the feasting, and the shopping. And if nothing else, give thanks that it is a holiday!

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