Thanksgiving is a federal holiday always celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. It is generally regarded as a “day of thanks,” typically celebrated around a festive meal with loved ones. Traditions for a day of thanks are a recurring theme in many cultures. Seasonal harvest celebrations have been celebrated across time everywhere around the world.
Thanksgiving traditions in the United States
In the United States, one popular Thanksgiving story recounts a 1621 harvest celebration in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Native American tribes, including the Abenaki, Patuxet, and Wampanoag helped Pilgrims through a harsh winter by providing them with food and other survival assistance. This “first” Thanksgiving is reported to be a meal shared between the newcomers and the indigenous peoples.
However, many other stories, dates, and locations have laid claim to “Thanksgiving” celebrations in the new “America”, some as early as 1565 and as late as 1817. Some of these locations include Florida, New York, Texas, and Virginia. Like the lore surrounding Columbus Day, there is little factual evidence supporting many of these claims.
In any case, various presidents issued proclamations about the name and date of “Thanksgiving” celebrations, including President Abraham Lincoln and President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR). For a few years in the 1930s, multiple dates were celebrated in different states. On December 26, 1941, FDR signed a joint resolution of Congress changing the official federal Thanksgiving Day to the fourth Thursday in November.
Today, the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States continues to be celebrated as a day of thanks. Many families enjoy a sumptuous meal featuring foods such as roast turkey with stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. Other traditions include providing groceries or serving community meals to those in need.
Many also want to commemorate a “National Day of Mourning”, acknowledging the conflicts that eventually arose between Native Americans and European settlers. The ensuing battles lead to destruction of hundreds of indigenous cultures across America and the deaths of thousands of people.
The three days following the Thursday holiday feature more revelry, shopping events, and community tree lighting to kick off the Christmas season.
Thanksgiving traditions in Hawaiʻi
In traditional Hawaiian culture, Makahiki is a four-month period beginning in mid-November with the rising of Makaliʻi (aka the constellation Pleiades or Seven Sisters). The first moon after Makaliʻi appears signals the beginning of the wet season (Hoʻolio). Makahiki marks a new year in Native Hawaiian culture, and this is a time of renewal and gratitude.
During Makahiki, Hawaiians celebrate the coming rains and Lono, god of abundance. Grievances are set aside. It is a time for peace, unity, and ʻohana (family). Celebrations include feasting, special oli (chants), and playing games of physical strength and mental skill. Today, many Hawaiians continue to practice customary rituals of Makahiki by giving gratitude and thanks.
In 1849, well ahead of the American Thanksgiving tradition, King Kamehameha III declared December 31st a Hawaiian Kingdom national holiday of Thanksgiving to strengthen the relationship of Hawaiʻi with the United States.
Of course, today Hawaiʻi is a melting pot of cultures. Many families celebrate Thanksgiving with a traditional turkey dinner but add local flair, perhaps roasting the turkey in an imu. The turkey stuffing may be rice, studded with Portuguese sausage and pineapple. Table condiments include furikake, chili pepper water, and pickled onions. Dessert is more likely made from coconut or sweet potatoes than pumpkin.
Other elements of a Hawaiian-style meal can include ahi poke, lomi lomi salmon, pipi kaula, chicken long rice, luau (stewed taro leaf with squid or chicken), and sweet potatoes. Still other locals will opt for a more traditional Hawaiian meal of grilled fish and a large bowl of poi to be shared.
See our list of 37 onolicious local and Hawaiian foods (hawaiionthecheap.com). For more inspiration, here are some of our favorite Hawaiian recipe websites:
- Cooking Hawaiian Style – Recipes (cookinghawaiianstyle.com)
- Hawaiian Electric – Recipes (hawaiianelectric.com)
- Hawaii Magazine – Recipes Archives (hawaiimagazine.com)
- Local Kine Recipes v2.0 (hawaii.edu)
- ‘Ono Hawaiian Recipes – Local Kine Grindz (onohawaiianrecipes.com)
- Onolicious Hawaiʻi (onolicioushawaii.com)
If you prefer to leave the cooking to someone else, every hotel and most restaurants offer a Thanksgiving meal dine-in and some offer to-go feasts. But every restaurant and bar will be fully booked for the holiday. Be sure to make reservations well in advance. Check our ideas for a Budget-friendly Thanksgiving dinner dine-in and to go (hawaiionthecheap.com).
You might also like: What’s closed and open Thanksgiving Day 2023 (hawaiionthecheap.com)
Thanksgiving Weekend events on our calendar
Listed below are events on our calendar for the long Thanksgiving Weekend, including holiday festivities and other activities.
Thursday, November 23, 2023
Friday, November 24, 2023
Saturday, November 25, 2023
Sunday, November 26, 2023