THANKSGIVING TRADITIONS: 6 Things We Found Out About America’s Feast Holiday

Since becoming a national holiday during the Civil War, Thanksgiving can accurately be called one of the first authentically American holidays. Initially celebrated as a communal harvest, the holiday has evolved enormously over the centuries; it’s been observed.

We’ve come pretty far from a simple harvest celebration. And let’s face it — this is about much more than starving Pilgrims sharing a table with Native Americans. Today, Thanksgiving day is a modern spectacle all on its own: football games are on all day, there’s a televised parade many seem obligated to watch on TV, and every strip mall in America braces itself for the busiest shopping holiday of the year: don’t forget about the pumpkin pie.

On top of all this, Thanksgiving also marks one of the busiest travel times of the year. While community-style festivities are far less common, Americans, by and large, do regard Thanksgiving dinner as a family dinner — and family members are often scattered about the country.

There’s a lot to unpack here, but our research revealed some striking new facts about America’s favorite day to feast.

Holiday Shopping

For decades, corporate America was able to enjoy a holiday of its own by offering insane deals the day after Thanksgiving. But, there’s a new competitor in town for the tech era, and it’s taken a ship away from the dominance of brick-and-mortar stores.

Half of our respondents participate in Black Friday shopping, but even more — 56 percent — shop from home on Cyber Monday. And we get it: these holidays are the best (and perhaps only) time to buy high-end electronics.

What’s For Dinner?

It isn’t called “Turkey Day” without reason — virtually every respondent in the United States who celebrates Thanksgiving meal observes turkey on the tablecloth as the official protein of the day. Our research supports this, with 84 percent listing Turkey as the meat of choice for the big dinner. There are notable detractors, however, with almost five percent preferring ham, and just over four percent opting for a vegetarian alternative. What we want to know is how do the families not having turkey and cranberry sauce, break the wishbone.

Turkey may not have always been synonymous with Thanksgiving, however. Mental Floss notes that the original account of the “First Thanksgiving” made no mention of the native bird.

When is Dinner?

This is perhaps the most critical question of the day on Thanksgiving — when are we allowed to eat ourselves into a coma?

Many of us think about “dinner time” being somewhere in the evening, but for many, this changes on special occasions. Our research shows that the bulk of loved ones prefer to eat sometime in the afternoon or early evening, between 4 and 6 pm.

Of course, this can be delayed by just how long it takes to prepare a massive meal for all of your guests. Thankfully, there are easy ways to get around this.

Thanksgiving Fisticuffs

We’re pleased to report that physical violence doesn’t appear common on Thanksgiving — but the number isn’t zero. Over 7 percent of our respondents say they’ve witnessed physical altercations occur during the holiday at some point. Some people turkey trot others fistfight and a family tradition.

This day of feasting isn’t thought of as a violent affair. But, law enforcement officials note that crime of all kinds tends to spike during the holidays — including Thanksgiving.

Black Friday Faves

As we mentioned earlier, Black Friday has become a considerable part of the broader Thanksgiving tradition. Stories about people camping outside of strip malls to be the first to get the sales appear in our media every year. However, the shopping hype seems to depend heavily on where you live.

Our data shows that Virginia residents are particularly enthusiastic about Black Friday, spending an average of over $1,427 each.

This makes sense: most of the items we can expect to see deals on aren’t exactly cheap — even with a holiday discount.

Cyber Monday

Many of the same states that see substantial shopping activity on Black Friday also see a lot during Cyber Monday — which is just the online version of Black Friday.

Virginia isn’t in the No. 1 spot this time, but it still breaks the top three. Pennsylvania tops the list with Indiana polling behind as the runner-up.


We just looked at a lot of new traditions that Americans observe on the fourth Thursday of November — and almost all of them involve spending a lot of money. This includes travel, groceries to feed an entire family, and the optional but attractive shopping deals that come just days after the holiday.

It isn’t just money you’re losing either — you’re also losing energy. The holiday season is a lot of work. Thankfully, you can save both money and time when preparing for Thanksgiving by using before your guests arrive.


All participants were screened using a two-pronged approach: (1) description of selection criteria with a requirement for self-acknowledgment and acceptance, and (2) directly asking each participant to confirm each criterion, namely that they, at one time, had “thanksgiving dinner.” The term “Thanksgiving” was defined as “a national holiday celebrated as a day of feasting and giving thanks for divine favors or goodness, observed on the fourth Thursday of November in the U.S. ” A total of 1,102 attempts were made to take the online study, with 65 eliminated for: (1) not ever having a “thanksgiving dinner”, (2) failing captcha, (3) not completing the survey, or (4) a mixture of these. Additionally, 27 response sets were eliminated for having duplicate IP addresses, for a total of 92 eliminations, yielding a completion rate of 91.65%, and a final n = 1,010. This study employed an online survey using a convenience sampling methodology via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, with a subsequent posteriori exploratory, correlational data analysis methodology employed after completion of data scrubbing via Microsoft Excel and data visualization via Tableau.

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Logan Freedman

Logan Freedman

Logan Freedman has been expertly producing content marketing for more than five years, with a focus on data-driven content. Logan has a passion for finding unique and catchy trends in data. His work has been featured in USA Today, People magazine, Pitchfork, The Guardian, and many other publications. He found his calling after studying political science and several other topics at Florida Gulf Coast University.