What is Thanksgiving?

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A surprising history regarding this delicious holiday

Jean Leon Gerome Ferris [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What’s Thanksgiving?

There is no doubt that Thanksgiving is part of the very fabric of our nation, and there are even Thanksgiving traditions all around the world. But to really get a grasp on what this holiday means, we have to examine our traditions in action.

What the Pilgrims Really Ate on Thanksgiving (Slideshow)

The Daily Meal has done this in several ways: We’ve examined some of the White House traditions to better understand how our founding fathers celebrated this truly patriotic holiday, and we’ve shared what Thanksgiving was like for those who defend our freedoms through a detailed history of our military’s Thanksgivings. While we look forward to showing you how to have a truly successful holiday, we hope you take a moment to get to know some of the history behind this delicious day.

Defined as an “expression of gratitude,” Thanksgiving is meant to be a day where we express our appreciation for the many blessings that are in our lives. The holiday of Thanksgiving is wrapped in myth and legend, where the definite origins of the Thanksgiving meal are blurred. The typically accepted first Thanksgiving meal origins occurred when the Plymouth pilgrims and the Wampanoag Native Americans gathered for a three-day feast now known as the first Thanksgiving in 1621. However, there is a marker in Texas that states “Feast of the First Thanksgiving — 1541."

Early Puritans celebrated Thanksgiving as a day of prayer, but Sarah Joseph Hale, known as the “godmother of Thanksgiving,” could be responsible for the way in which we celebrate it today. After two stories were written about the first and the traditional Thanksgiving meals, Hale began a lifelong crusade to promote the holiday. As a female author and editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, Hale used her position to repeatedly sing the praises of Thanksgiving for its moral and domestic influences. Beginning in 1847, she began the campaign to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. Nearly two decades later, after the Civil War, Hale wrote to President Lincoln asking him to proclaim Thanksgiving a holiday. On October 3, 1863 he obliged and declared that the last Thursday in November would be recognized as Thanksgiving Day.

12 Gluten-Free Thanksgiving Recipes for Your Holiday Table

Heather Dessinger 18 Comments This post contains affiliate links.

I love Thanksgiving . . . and really, who doesn’t love a holiday centered around food? I mean giving thanks. For food. And family. And farmers.

When my family first went gluten-free, it was difficult to find recipes that my husband and I loved as much as the ones we grew up with. Over nearly ten years of gluten-free baking and cooking, though, I’ve refined those original recipes into dishes that we truly look forward to (and don’t make us feel like we’re missing out at all).

You’ll find some of my favorites below. Also, if you’re carving up a pasture-raised turkey for Thanksgiving this year, keep in mind that instructions written for conventional turkeys can leave you with a dry, flavorless main course. Do this instead!


The roast turkey is the quintessential main dish for Thanksgiving feasts. Remember that no matter what you choose to make, the key to a successful dinner is having a turkey large enough to feed everybody – and to have some leftovers for yourself. Try these recommendations for the star of the show:

  • This roast turkey recipe includes directions for defrosting, stuffing, trussing, seasoning, and roasting. It also gives you the instructions for how to bake the turkey if you prefer to leave it unstuffed.
  • A roast turkey with bacon will be a crowd-pleaser. The bacon helps keep the moisture on the turkey meat, giving it a smoky flavor and a juicy finish.
  • For sweeter palates, think of a balsamic and honey roast turkey, enhanced by thyme and oranges. Simple and flavorful.

Not all households are fans of turkey for their Thanksgiving dinner. Many chose a flavorful ham instead of the bird. Make this meat your main:

  • This maple and brown sugar glazed ham is an excellent choice it cooks in just 2 hours and needs very little prepping. It requires 4 ingredients besides a fully cooked ham.
  • Our gammon recipe transforms this cut of pork into a beautiful baked ham flavored with apricots, cloves, and red wine.
  • Cross the ocean and try a British take on ham. Serve the amazing flavors of cider and peppercorns with a simple recipe for Welsh cider ham.

23 Southern Thanksgiving Side Dishes to Serve This Year

With social distancing guidelines and travel restrictions in place, Thanksgiving will look a lot different this year. But even if your Thanksgiving table is a bit smaller than usual, you can still enjoy a down-home meal with plenty of delicious recipes.

Whether you're in the South or you're just in the mood for some homestyle cooking, we have you covered. These Southern Thanksgiving recipes are sure to please everyone at your table, even if that's not a huge crowd.

The Best Ina Garten Thanksgiving Recipes Our Editors Are Trying This Year

At Southern Living, we’ve got plenty of Test Kitchen Professionals to turn to for expert advice. But like any reasonable human being, we always trust the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten, for tips, recipes, and even relationship advice (cheers to more than 50 years together, Jeffrey!) She might have grown up in Connecticut, but we happily claim Ina as an honorary Southerner. Like a Southern Living hostess, Ina wants her holidays to be beautiful but easy. That’s why she places a huge emphasis on creating Thanksgiving recipes even the busiest home cook can make ahead of time. She’s been quoted saying that Thanksgiving is her favorite holiday, so you can be sure these recipes are her best. From homestyle classics like mashed potatoes and roasted turkey to beautiful new updates like sauteed Brussels sprouts and a savory bread pudding, the Southern Living editors are ready to take a page from the Barefoot Contessa’s book this Thanksgiving.

How Sweet Eats

This smooth three-cheese squash recipe is everyone's dream Thanksgiving side dish, they just don't know it yet.

Whether you decide to honor your state's fruit or vegetable, or you decide to take inspiration from another place on this list, you can't go wrong with these inventive Thanksgiving recipes.

Sweet Low-Carb Thanksgiving Recipes

You don't want to miss this low-carb pumpkin pie, it's a must for all low-carb holiday tables. The secret is the homemade pumpkin pie spice!

Keto Chocolate Walnut Brownies - These brownies are a must. Not only are they crazy good, but they're moist and fluffy as well. The chocolate flavor and combination of walnuts are hands down perfect.

Low-Carb Raspberry Swirl Cheesecake - Don't forget the cheesecake! And if you ever doubted that cheesecake could actually be low-carb, this simple recipe is the proof.

Low-Carb Sugar-Free Pumpkin Pie Fudge - It just wouldn't be Thanksgiving unless there was something pumpkin to eat. This fudge is so good it literally just melts in your mouth.

Let your guests relax with this Slow Cooker Low-Carb Mulled Wine - This is one yummy beverage that you can whip up in your crockpot in no time at all! This is certain to be a hit for everyone at your house, and you'll love having a bit left over for you to enjoy later as well.

There you have it! 21 delicious low-carb Thanksgiving recipes that you just can't miss. Each of these offers a unique taste that will certainly have you craving more.

LOW-CARB SWEET TREATS: Want to enjoy parties AND stay on track? Delicious recipes to please a crowd - DON'T WAIT - BUY NOW

By the way. who says that you have to stop at just a couple? Plan out your entire Thanksgiving meal using these simple low-carb recipes. There is literally everything you need to put together an amazing meal all right here on one page!

Sheet Pan Thanksgiving

Recipe from the Tasting Table Test Kitchen

Yield: 4 servings

Prep Time: 30 minutes, plus resting time

Cook Time: 50 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour and 20 minutes, plus resting time


For the Stuffing:

1 pound (1 loaf) sourdough bread, cut into 1-inch cubes

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 small carrot, finely chopped

1 celery stalk, finely chopped

½ yellow onion, finely chopped

½ Granny Smith apple, cored and finely chopped

For the Turkey:

1 teaspoon minced thyme leaves

One 2-pound turkey breast, skin on

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the Sweet Potatoes:

1 pound (2 medium) sweet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced on a mandoline

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the Green Beans:

12 ounces green beans, trimmed

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


1. Prepare the stuffing: Preheat the oven to 375° and line a baking sheet with foil. In a large bowl, mix all of the stuffing ingredients until well incorporated. Let soak for 15 minutes, then spread in an even layer over the left half of the baking sheet, making a well in the center for the turkey.

2. Meanwhile, prepare the turkey: In a small bowl, mix together the melted butter with the sage, thyme and minced garlic. Season the turkey breast well with salt and pepper, then place in the center of the stuffing. Rub the turkey with the butter mixture.

3. Prepare the sweet potatoes: In a medium bowl, toss all of the sweet potato ingredients together to coat. Spread the sweet potatoes over the top half of the empty right side of the baking sheet. The slices will overlap like a gratin. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, prepare the green beans: In a medium bowl, toss together all the green beans ingredients. After 30 minutes, add the green beans to the remaining quarter of the baking sheet, spreading in an even layer to fill the space. Continue to cook until the green beans are tender and the turkey reads 155° on an instant-read thermometer when inserted, another 20 to 30 minutes.

5. Remove the tray from the oven and tent with foil, then let rest for 15 minutes. Carve the turkey and serve.

The Most-Searched Thanksgiving Side Dish In Every State

Everyone has their personal preferences when it comes to Thanksgiving side dishes (shout-out to stuffing!). The popularity of certain classics can also vary based on location.

The folks at Google shared the most uniquely searched Thanksgiving side dishes in every state (meaning, the queries that were more searched in each state relative to searches in the U.S. overall).

It turns out mashed potatoes are all the rage in Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, New Mexico and Oregon. Green beans dominated in Alaska, Minnesota and Nevada, while green bean casserole took the top spot in Maine and Vermont.

A variety of sweet potato dishes were No. 1 as well, with sweet potato casserole winning in Hawaii and Tennessee, sweet potato soufflé in Georgia and just regular ol’ sweet potatoes in Connecticut, Kansas, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Wisconsin.

And of course, Southern states showed their affinity for cornbread dressing, the top unique search in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas. Meanwhile, sausage stuffing dominated in Delaware and Pennsylvania, and Wyoming was all about classic stuffing. (Searches for “stuffing vs. dressing” also spiked in the week before Thanksgiving.)

Interesting outliers included deviled eggs in Rhode Island, broccoli casserole in Kentucky, ham in Arizona, rice in North Carolina, fruit salad in Iowa and duck confit in Washington, D.C.

Google also shared its national data for most searched Thanksgiving pies ― sweet potato, apple, pumpkin, pecan and mud ― and trending Thanksgiving drinks ― cranberry cocktail, (holiday) punch, hot buttered rum, apple cider mimosa, spiked hot chocolate, cider cocktails, hot chocolate bombs, red wine, cranberry wine and harvest punch.

A Classic Thanksgiving Menu to Feed a Crowd

Niki Achitoff-Gray the editor-in-chief at Serious Eats and a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She's pretty big into oysters, offal, and most edible things.

Thanksgiving in my family isn't exactly predictable. A child of divorce, I alternate between my parents from year to year hosts change frequently, and with them the guests around the table, the group dynamic, the quality of conversation. But a few things are guaranteed, no matter where I am or who I'm with: There will be turkey there will be stuffing there will be cranberry sauce, gravy, potatoes, and pie.

These aren't really dishes we eat year-round (or, in my case, on virtually any day other than Thanksgiving), so striking that balance of familiar and delicious is of paramount importance. From the best caramelized sweet potatoes you've ever tasted to a classic fluffy and moist sausage stuffing to a "pumpkin" pie made with deeply roasted butternut squash (which doesn't sound traditional, but it is!), here's how to do it right.

We understand that a big, classic spread may be impractical this year, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, but we also know that, for some people, it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without the big roasted bird and all the usual sides. While our only suggestion with respect to the turkey is to buy a smaller one, we've updated a few of the side dishes with instructions for how to scale them down for a smaller gathering—you can also check out our tips for a scaled-down Thanksgiving for more ideas and recommendations. You'll still likely have a lot left over, but that's part of the point of Thanksgiving, after all.

What's that? You want even more traditional Thanksgiving dishes? It's cool, we've got you covered. Check out our guide to Thanksgiving for our complete lineup of turkey recipes, pie recipes, and more.

Watch the video: Whats the Truth About the First Thanksgiving? (May 2022).