Thanksgiving is not just about food
Thanksgiving spread on a family table.creative commons/ Satya Murthy

Thanksgiving Day, also known as turkey day, is celebrated as a federal holiday on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States. This year it falls on November 24. The festival is considered a day to give thanks for the blessings of a good harvest by organising a grand feast for family and friends.

It was first celebrated by Wampanoag Indians and the Plymouth colonists in 1621, who shared an autumn harvest feast. In 1623, it was celebrated again to mark the end of a religious fast called by Governor William Bradford after the year's harvest was threatened by a long drought.

The day was then observed on and off by Americans until President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed it as a national holiday in 1863, after taking into consideration the request of prolific writer Sarah Josepha Hale. It is believed to mark the beginning of a broader holiday season in the country.

Here are a few interesting facts about the Thanksgiving Day celebrations in the United States:

Almost 90 percent of Americans include turkey in their special dinner feast even though it is not confirmed if it was included by the pilgrims in 1621. Other traditional foods served on the day include cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie.

Providing free dinner and holding food drives for the poor have become a widely-practised activity. Various communities volunteer to collect staple, canned and non-perishable packaged foods to distribute among the less fortunate.

Thanksgiving Day parades have also become an important part of the celebration in the US. Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in New York is the most famous and the largest parade, attracting more than a million live spectators and television audience.

Another traditional practice of the day is the turkey pardoning ritual. Every year, the president and a few US governors send one or two turkeys to farm and spare them from slaughter.

The Thanksgiving Day celebration was commercialised by President Franklin D Roosevelt by declaring a week-long holiday in 1939. Although it was done during the Great Depression to spur retail sales, he received criticism from the opposition party and had to reluctantly move it back to the fourth Thursday of November.