If you’re hosting Thanksgiving this year, then you might be dedicating all your time and energy to crafting the perfect turkey dinner—and rightly so! After all, it’s the food that we most look forward to every year.
But cooking an elaborate meal for your loved ones is not the only way to get in the spirit of this holiday. Just like with any other celebration, decorating is something that you absolutely can do on Thanksgiving.
So, to give you some ideas, here are five of our favorite Thanksgiving themes. But before we get into them, let’s have a brief history lesson on the origins of this (delicious) holiday.
A Brief History of Thanksgiving
The more we learn about the history of Thanksgiving, the more we realize that we are wrong about many things that we thought were traditions.
Even so, we know for sure that a group of Pilgrims arrived in North America in 1620. After they arrived, the local tribe (who happened to have an English-speaking member amongst them) helped the Pilgrims to adjust to the new land. They taught them how to fish off the Atlantic coast, cultivate corn in the fields, and avoid native poisonous plants.
Thanks to that, the Pilgrims celebrated their first successful harvest in the autumn of 1621. While some historians are a tad bit pessimistic and deny that the local tribe was cordially invited to the gathering, somehow the Pilgrims and the Native Americans ended up feasting, praying, and playing together for three whole days.
Because it’s something we don’t eat often, you’ll be surprised to learn that deer was served at the celebration. And while there is no particular mention of turkey, we know that some kind of fowl was eaten at the feast.
But what’s most interesting of all is that Thanksgiving as we know it did not exist for centuries. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1830s that it was given its name, and it didn’t become a national holiday until President Abraham Lincoln declared it one in 1863. However, since then, Thanksgiving has been celebrated every November as a national day for rest and gratitude.
Top Thanksgiving Traditions
Now that we’re a little more familiar with how Thanksgiving became a holiday, let’s take a look at some of its main traditions that may not be a part of your celebration… yet!
Pre-Thanksgiving Calorie Burn
Okay, maybe it’s not a tradition yet, but it’s definitely gaining ground. Thousands of people are starting to turn Thanksgiving morning into one of the biggest athletic events of the year. The focus isn’t on winning a competition; rather, it’s all about upping that calorie burn so that you feel amazing after the huge feast.
If there’s one tradition that we missed during the pandemic, it's traveling. There’s something exciting about getting on a plane to visit your family in another state. Even if you’re staying local, there’s a feeling of adventure when you leave to go to another person’s home. Whether it’s the airplane, the train, or the highway, Thanksgiving is one of the busiest travel days of the year.
The Thanksgiving Day Parade is an obvious favorite that families gather to watch every year. But there are tons of other programs that we associate with Thanksgiving. For fans of sports, there’s always a football game on. And if you prefer something else, there is no shortage of music concerts that celebrate this holiday.
If we had to do away with all Thanksgiving traditions and keep just one, the meal would be the one to stay without a doubt. Here are the main components of the meal and why they are present on so many Thanksgiving dinner tables.
- Turkey: Turkey is a bird native to America and it’s delicious! But since we don’t know for a fact that a turkey was present at the first Thanksgiving, we can’t say that it’s a tradition that dates back 400 years. So, if you want to try something new this year, then goose, duck, and even tofurkey are all options to try out.
- Stuffing: This is another Thanksgiving staple that was not served at the original feast. But because stovetops didn’t exist at the time, putting stuffing inside a whole bird and roasting it was a very efficient cooking technique that we use to this day.
- Mashed Potatoes: This dish was not served in 1620. As a matter of fact, it didn’t become popular until the 18th century. Some say that mashed potatoes were recommended as a Thanksgiving staple when the holiday was first created.
- Gravy: Using pan drippings to make gravy is an old European cooking trick. So, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Pilgrims used the remains of the bird they cooked to make some kind of sauce.
- Cranberry Sauce: Because sugar was hard to come by in the early days of New England, it’s very unlikely that the sweet cranberry sauce we eat these days was present at the first feast. But cranberries were definitely served to accompany the meat-—another cooking tradition we got from Europe.
- Casserole: The Pilgrims certainly did not serve a baked casserole dish, but they did serve the many ingredients that make up the modern-day casserole: green beans, sweet tubers, corn, and pumpkin. Cooking advances in the 20th century made the casserole a classic dish that became a delicious Thanksgiving tradition.
- Pie(s): Due to a dearth of flour and sugar, the Pilgrims were not able to serve any pies. But baked squash and pumpkin were likely present as a sweet treat and evolved over the years to take on a flaky crust and lots of sugar.
This is an adorable Thanksgiving tradition that’s especially popular with kids. The wishbone is located between the turkey’s neck and breast and resembles a triangle without a base.
After it’s been removed and had a chance to dry, two people grab on to each end of the wishbone and break it apart. It’s said that the one with the bigger piece has their wish come true.
This is a tradition that’s not unique to just the Pilgrims. A day of rest, reflection, and gratitude exists in many cultures.
In fact, a national holiday dedicated to this was one of the main reasons for making Thanksgiving a national holiday and not just a local tradition. So, at your next gathering, make sure to incorporate some gratitude—in any form you like.
After a huge meal, there’s nothing we want more than a long nap. Thankfully, there’s a biological reason for it: the more your body has to work to digest food, the less it can dedicate to keeping your brain awake and alert. So, give yourself a few hours of rest before you head back home.
Top 5 Thanksgiving Themes
Now that you have a better idea of which traditions you want to keep, add, and maybe even get rid of, you might be thinking about the best way to decorate for the holiday. Well, the options for that are plentiful, but here are five of our favorite themes to give you some ideas.
Do like the Pilgrims and celebrate the autumn harvest with this classic theme. The golden harvest is all about classic autumn colors like orange and brown with a touch of gold.
Along with a gold harvest table setting, decorate your space with natural elements like small pumpkins and dried corn. A large cornucopia at the center of the table will give off vibes of abundance this holiday. For an extra rustic feel, you can even use wooden serving bowls and wooden utensils.
If you’re a stern traditionalist and can’t imagine your Thanksgiving without turkey, then the dinner table isn’t the only place to display the big bird. Plates adorned with turkeys will set the scene long before the star of the dinner comes out of the oven. You can even decorate with small turkey figurines, cardboard cutouts, or—as a kid-friendly DIY project—pinecone turkeys.
If you want to keep things really simple, then decorating in classic autumn colors will be the easiest path to a gorgeous Thanksgiving. Use red, orange, yellow, and brown colors to give your space the ambiance of changing foliage. Some dried flowers, tree branches, and even colorful tree leaves make for an easy and inexpensive décor idea.
If you’re celebrating with adults this Thanksgiving, then a glamorous theme can be the perfect thing to experiment with. Keep your decorations classic and subdued so you can make your table setting the center of the show with golden plates, cups, and cutlery.
For a completely unique and unexpected table setting, sometimes it’s best to go in the opposite direction of Thanksgiving. In this case, we love our blue-and-white Moroccan Nights design that your Instagram won’t get enough of. And as a bonus, the colors will look stunning next to the classic orange hues of Thanksgiving.
Here’s to a Bountiful Turkey Day
As you can see, Thanksgiving is all about celebrating the abundance in life. Whether it’s a full harvest, a delicious Thanksgiving dinner, or the ability to spend time with loved ones, we hope that you have lots to be grateful for this year!