Thanksgiving in the United States

Written by Lin Tian, who is an international student from Qingdao, China. Recipes in this blog post were created by Dominic Sumner. Both Lin and Dominic are students in the Nutrition program at SJSU. This is the final installment in a series of 3 Thanksgiving blogs by students in the Nutrition and Food Science program, where they will share Thanksgiving traditions and healthy recipes. ISSS is excited to collaborate with Professor Jamie Kubota and her students on this project for International Education Week.

Thanksgiving in the United-States 

Let’s Start with Some Background

Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday in the United-States, celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November since President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed it a holiday amid the Civil War in 1863. This national holiday honors the pilgrims that arrived on the Mayflower (ship) at Cape Cod. 

The Plymouth colony was a group of English Puritans who wanted to break away from the Church of England. However, long before Europeans arrived, the area was inhabited by many Native Americans – including the Wampanoag people. But a few years before the Mayflower landed in New England, an epidemic had wiped out much of the native population. When the pilgrims reached Cape Cod, they were incredibly unprepared for the winter. In a state of desperation, the pilgrims robbed corn from native Americans’ graves and storehouses. But even then, half of the colony died within their first year. In 1621, a formal agreement was made between the settlers and the native people to protect their tribes. When the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag sat down together to celebrate a good harvest in Massachusetts, it was recognized as the first Thanksgiving. In 1789, George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation; after that, Thanksgiving was celebrated nationally. 

Thanksgiving that we know today happened thanks to the 19th-century writer Sarah Josepha Hale. She was America’s first female magazine editor and author of the famous nursery rhyme: Mary Had a Little Lamb. During the Civil War, Hale was convinced that a national Thanksgiving day would awaken American hearts to the love of home and country and thankfulness to God and peace. She wrote a letter to the governors and even President Abraham Lincoln suggesting the proclamation of one Thanksgiving Day in the United States, which carried forward the history of Thanksgiving. In 1870, Thanksgiving as a national holiday was signed into law. 

Today, Thanksgiving is more about family. However, the way we serve our turkey and our pumpkin may have changed; our entertainment evolved over the years from archery and displays of arms to football and parades. Thanksgiving has become a welcome day of rest to spend with loved ones in recognition and appreciation for all the blessings for which we are thankful.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

US Thanksgiving traditions

The celebration of Thanksgiving has its religious significance in American households. It originated to give thanks to God. On Thanksgiving Day, families get together to celebrate this holiday and share their gratitude. Communities may also hold food drives and free dinners to celebrate. 

Also, in the 1920s, the Detroit Lions came up with the idea of a Thanksgiving Day football game to boost dwindling attendance. In 1924, Macy’s department store started their Thanksgiving Day Parade, which heads down the streets of New York and ends at the store. In some major cities like New York City and St. Louis, Thanksgiving Day Parades are still happening as part of the tradition. 

In 1941, Congress finally made Thanksgiving Day a legal holiday when they moved the holiday up one week, so the official day of Thanksgiving would be the fourth Thursday in November.

What’s on the table?

The symbolic foods of Thanksgiving are turkey, potato (usually mashed), squash, corn, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. Turkey, as a uniquely American bird, and although likely not on the tables of the original colonists, turkey has developed into a symbol of the holiday.  Over 46 million turkeys are consumed every year, on average of 16 lbs per turkey! Whether it’s roasted, grilled, or deep-fried, it should be placed at the center of the table. 

Meanwhile, roast some sweet potatoes and green beans, serve with butter and brown sugar and make it a full meal along with the turkey. Homemade cranberry sauce on the table is a must! The ratio of sugar, water, and fresh cranberry is 1:1:5. Boiled together for 10 minutes over medium-high heat, with a pinch of salt, and served cold. 

Photo by Pro Church Media on Unsplash

Being Thankful

Thanksgiving is all about thankfulness. Show your gratitude to people around you; their support is the reason for who we are today. Thanksgiving is a perfect time to send out thank you cards to those who are there when we need them. Also, write a note to yourself mentioning things you are grateful for this year. It’s nice to go over this once in a while.


Written by Lin Tian, Nutrition student at San Jose State University. Born and raised in Qingdao, China

Recipes for your Thanksgiving Leftovers

One of the great things about the bounty of Thanksgiving is that we have leftovers from a delicious Thanksgiving meal! Dominic Sumner, a student in WHISK SJSU shares his creative ideas for your Thanksgiving leftovers.

Leftover Mashed Potato Pizza

This recipe combines leftover mashed potatoes and new ingredients to make a pizza with an American twist. We call for a premade crust here – but feel free to substitute homemade pizza dough – increasing cooking time to 15-20 minutes. Mashed potatoes are often served at a traditional Thanksgiving feast and if leftovers remain they will go great with this dish. The mashed potatoes act like tomato sauce.

Photo by Ivan Torres on Unsplash


  • ½ cup bacon, cut into small pieces (~6 slices)
  • 1 12-inch Boboli premade pizza crust
  • 3 cups leftover mashed potatoes
  • 1 cup shredded cheese (like cheddar)
  • Salt & pepper& dried oregano to taste


  1. Preheat the oven to 425-450°F.
  2. Cook the bacon in a skillet over medium heat for about 5 minutes or until crispy. Drain on a paper towel and allow to cool.
  3. With the premade crust, spread the mashed potatoes evenly over the surface. Add the cooked bacon, and sprinkle the cheese over the top.
  4. Season with salt, pepper and oregano.
  5. Place in the oven for 6-10 minutes or until the crust is golden. Season with salt, pepper, and oregano. Cut pizza and enjoy!

Yields: About 4 servings (1/4 pizza)

Leftover Turkey Fried Rice

Leftover Turkey Fried Rice is a dish that combines leftover turkey meat from a traditional Thanksgiving meal with fried rice.  Brown or white rice can be used, however, brown rice has a slightly different texture.

Photo by Obi Onyeador on Unsplash


  • 2 cups white rice, uncooked
  • ½ pound leftover turkey meat (about 1 cup)
  • ½ cup green onions (chopped)
  • 1 cup carrots (diced)
  • 2 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 2 large eggs (beaten)
  • 1 cup leftover green beans (cut)
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • ¼ teaspoon ground red pepper


  1. Cook rice in a rice cooker or pot with 4 cups water.
  2. In a large wok or skillet heat oil and add leftover turkey. Add the chopped green onions, carrots and garlic, cooking for 6-8 minutes over medium heat.
  3. Add beaten egg and cut green beans and stir periodically.
  4. In a separate bowl mix soy sauce, oil, and red pepper.
  5. Add cooked rice into the wok and sprinkle the mixture of soy sauce over the rice. Cook for another 3-5 minutes or until heated through. And enjoy.

Yields:  4 servings

Written by Dominic Sumner, Nutrition student at SJSU

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