The best Thanksgiving traditions in the US

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Read on for our list of the best Thanksgiving traditions around the country.

Thanksgiving is big business in the U.S. Not only is it the busiest travel season of the year, but it’s also a time when Americans tuck into turkey with all the trimmings.

While the US holiday is rooted in giving thanks and feasting over a shared dinner with family and friends, a tradition that became a national holiday in 1863, a number of Thanksgiving traditions have been added to the ritual of eating a festive meal. From sunrise to sunset, Americans have adopted a variety of turkey day traditions, many as beloved as the Thanksgiving feast.

Presidential turkey pardoning

It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without watching the president of the US pardon a turkey. The 69th annual Presidential Turkey Pardoning ceremony will be held at The White House the week of Thanksgiving. Each year, the National Turkey Federation presents the president with two turkeys (one serves as an alternate), which are “pardoned” by the president. The quirky tradition is said to date back to Harry Truman, who received a ceremonial turkey in 1947, but it was George H.W. Bush who formalized the turkey pardoning ceremony.

Turkey Trots

Turkey Trot
Trot away those turkey day calories. (Image: Chris Cast, turkey_trot_2011_22 via Flickr CC BY 2.0)

Prep for the massive caloric intake by running a Turkey Trot. Whether you run in the oldest Turkey Trot, the YMCA Turkey Trot, an 8K footrace through the streets of Buffalo, N.Y. that has taken place on Thanksgiving since 1896, or take on the double-race 4th Annual Plymouth Turkey Trot “Second Helping Challenge,” a back-to-back challenge made up of the Plymouth Turkey Trot, a 4.77-mile race that kicks off at Plymouth Rock and passes by the Mayflower II, immediately followed by the Plymouth Pilgrim 5K that runs along Old Sandwich Road.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
Iconic balloons float high above Manhattan’s streets on Thanksgiving. (Image: Lauren Mack)

The 90th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade marches through New York City on Thanksgiving morning. More than 3.5 million spectators line the city streets to gaze at mammoth helium-filled balloons and marvel at fanciful floats, marching bands, celebrities and Santa Claus. The parade tradition started in 1924 with Macy’s employees who wanted to usher in the holidays with a celebration similar to carnivals and festivals held in Europe. This year’s parade includes the return of Charlie Brown and Diary of A Wimpy Kid balloons and the debut of a multi-character balloon based on DreamWorks’ film “Trolls.”


Since 1920, the National Football League has hosted games on Thanksgiving day. The Minnesota Vikings take on the Detroit Lions in Detroit, Mich. at 12:30 p.m. EST while the Washington Redskins take on the Dallas Cowboys in Dallas, Tex. at 4:30 p.m. The day finishes with the Pittsburgh Steelers taking on the Indianapolis Colts in Indianapolis, Ind. at 8:30 p.m. If you happen to be taking a turkey day sneak away, you can still catch the games on airlines like jetBlue that offer satellite television in-flight.


Black Friday Shopping
On your mark, get set, shop! (Image: Diariocritico de Venezuela, US-ECONOMY-BLACK FRIDAY via Flickr CC BY 2.0)

Like it or not, getting a jump start on Black Friday shopping has become an increasingly popular pastime on Thanksgiving. With turkey dinners barely digested, Americans spent $4.45 billion shopping online on Thanksgiving and the day after in 2015, according to Adobe. Whether you choose to stand in line for door busters or shop online, indulging in retail therapy on turkey day can be a great escape in between dinner and leftovers.

Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade

Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade
Philadelphia’s City Hall is the backdrop for the annual Thanksgiving Day Parade. (Image: Photo by M. Kennedy for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®)

Before the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Gimbels department store held the country’s first Thanksgiving day parade in 1920. Department store employees dressed in costumes paraded down Market Street along with floats and Santa Claus. The tradition continues today with the 1.4-mile 6ABC Dunkin Donuts Thanksgiving Day Parade, which starts at 8:30 a.m. at 20th Street and JFK Street and ends at Eakins oval in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art until noonFancy floats, marching bands and holiday entertainment are highlights of the parade. Notable marchers include Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Alaina of Avalor (Disney’s newest princess) and Ginger Zee from “Good Morning America.” Philadelphia is a fitting place to celebrate Thanksgiving as Thanksgiving was founded by Philadelphia writer/editor Sara Hale, who fought to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. She campaigned for years and eventually convinced President Lincoln to name the holiday in 1863.

Foods & Feasts of Colonial Virginia

Head to the Jamestown Settlement in Williamsburg, Va. for the annual Foods & Feasts of Colonial Virginia. The three-day festival Nov. 24-26 features reenactments and food cooking demonstrations. Visitors can learn how food was gathered and prepared in 17th and 18th century Virginia. Watch venison and turkey cooked over an open fire; corn, squash and bean soups made in clay pots; and pudding, pies and porridge cooked on open hearths. Follow up all that education with a Thanksgiving dinner served in the Jamestown Settlement Café on Thanksgiving Day.


Volunteering to feed the hungry on Thanksgiving day has become a tradition for many families. Give back by paying a friendly visit to a senior citizen through Meals on Wheels, the U.S.’s oldest and largest national organization supporting 5,000 community programs, or look into local volunteer opportunities in your area, which could include food drives, dinner prep and/or meal delivery to those in need.

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Main image: iStockPhoto/GMVozd

The best Thanksgiving traditions in the US was last modified: June 26th, 2019 by Lauren Mack
Author: Lauren Mack (163 posts)

Lauren Mack has traveled to 40 countries on five continents, including Cuba, New Zealand, Peru and Tanzania. For many years, she called China, and then Taiwan, home. Countries at the beginning of the alphabet, particularly Antarctica, Argentina and Australia are on her travel bucket list. Lauren is a multimedia travel and food journalist and explorer based in New York City.