The evolution of Thanksgiving in a multicultural America

Photo by Temple University.

If you have American friends, you’ve probably heard of Thanksgiving. You probably know that it’s a day when Americans gather with their extended families, and eat a big feast of turkey and other foods.

How has this iconic American holiday evolved? How are Thanksgiving traditions changing in an increasingly multicultural America?

Controversial origins

The story behind Thanksgiving is a touchy subject in the US. For a long time, Americans thought about Thanksgiving only in a positive light.

In 1621, colonists in Plymouth shared a feast with the Wampanoag Native American tribe. This feast is thought of as the first Thanksgiving. American children often reenact the feast for school plays, with some children wearing Native American headdresses.

The evolution of Thanksgiving in a multicultural America | News by Thaiger
A painting of the first Thanksgiving, image via

But historians have pointed out that there are some details to Thanksgiving’s origin story that is less pretty.

Historian David Silverman said that when the pilgrims landed at Plymouth in 1620, the Wampanoag chief offered the new arrivals an entente, mainly as a way to protect the Wampanoags against their rivals. For 50 years, the alliance was tested by colonial land expansion, the spread of disease, and the exploitation of resources on Wampanoag land.

The tensions resulted in war, which devastated the Wampanoags and ended up with the European colonists in power. Wampanoags today remember the Pilgrims’ entry to their homeland as a day of deep mourning, rather than a moment of giving thanks.

Thanksgiving today

Regardless of its touchy origin story, most Americans have warm feelings about Thanksgiving. They see it as a day to gather with family, eat delicious food, and remember what they are grateful for (as the holiday’s name suggests).

American families often meet with extended family members, who fly in from around the country and gather at the home of one family unit. The holiday always falls on the last Thursday of November.

The evolution of Thanksgiving in a multicultural America | News by Thaiger
Photo via Martha Stewart.

The iconic Thanksgiving food is, of course, turkey, which is either roasted or smoked. Other foods served to include mashed potatoes, stuffing, salad, Brussel sprouts, cranberries, pumpkin pie, and pecan pie.

Christian families often join hands and say grace before digging into the hearty feast. The person saying grace will list things that the family is thankful for.

Thanksgiving in a multicultural America

The US is known as the world’s melting pot, where all different cultures have blender. In an increasingly multicultural America, people are eating a variety of different ethnic dishes on Thanksgiving.

The culinary website Tastemade has come up with a list of “10 Ethnic Dishes the Pilgrims Wished They Had on Thanksgiving.” The list includes dishes that “may become part of everyone’s Thanksgiving in coming generations.”

The evolution of Thanksgiving in a multicultural America | News by Thaiger
Mexican tamales, photo by The Food Network.

One dish on this list is Mexican tamales. There are also Caribbean sweet potato dumplings known as Ducana. One delicious dessert listed is a Columbian rice pudding known as Arroz Con Coco.

Various cultures also have their own ‘Thanksgiving’ traditions. For example, Chinese families celebrate the Chung Chiu moon festival in which they meet for a three-day fest to eat mooncakes and other goodies. Chung Chiu is a time for family and friends to reflect on peace and unity in the coming year.

South Indians celebrate Pongal, a four-day harvest festival.

In a world where immigration is increasingly common, people could potentially bring these cultures into America’s Thanksgiving holiday.

America is forever changing, and so is Thanksgiving.

LifestyleWorld News

Tara Abhasakun

A Thai-American dual citizen, Tara has reported news and spoken on a number of human rights and cultural news issues in Thailand. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in history from The College of Wooster. She interned at Southeast Asia Globe, and has written for a number of outlets. Tara reports on a range of Thailand news issues.

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