Thanksgiving Primer for English Learners in Washington DC
A Thanksgiving Primer for English Learners in Washington DC

If you are one of the lucky students studying English or another foreign language at one of the language schools in Washington DC this November, you get to celebrate an American Thanksgiving! Thanksgiving is always celebrated in America on the fourth Thursday of November, which means this year’s Thanksgiving falls on November 28, 2019.

The History of Thanksgiving

According to History, “In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies.” This is the origin story of the American Thanksgiving. The Plymouth colonists were celebrating their first successful corn harvest. The practice of taking a day (or a few days) for thanksgiving continued to be practiced. However, it was not declared a national holiday until 1863. While the holiday has changed quite a bit since 1621, Thanksgiving is still a time when people gather together to give thanks and eat.

How People Decorate

Don’t be surprised if your Washington language school decorates for Thanksgiving! Since Thanksgiving occurs during the fall season, you should expect to see plenty of autumnal décors. This means there will be lots of oranges, yellows, and reds. You may see decorations with leaves, pumpkins and gourds, and statues of pilgrims and Native Americans. You may also see the cornucopia, also known as the horn of plenty.

What Americans Eat on Thanksgiving

While Thanksgiving is traditionally a holiday encouraging thankfulness, many think of it as the holiday of food. And that’s for a good reason! The first Thanksgiving occurred because of successful food crops which were shared amongst men.

However, today’s Thanksgiving meal has evolved, but there are still some standard dishes you should expect to see on the Thanksgiving menu. The main dish tends to be a turkey. History reports, “Today nearly 90 percent of Americans eat the bird—whether roasted, baked or deep-fried—on Thanksgiving.” Also, dishes like stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie are Thanksgiving staples.

But, this all depends on who you celebrate the holiday with. For example, if you celebrate with classmates from your English class in DC, you may have a more eclectic menu and representative of a variety of ethnic cuisine.

Different Ways to Show Thankfulness

An unfortunate truth about the American holiday of Thanksgiving is that the “thanksgiving part” is often overlooked. For instance, few Americans give one another cards expressing their thankfulness. However, some families may offer prayers or Thanksgiving blessings. Some gatherings include going around the table and sharing something each person is thankful for. And, others take time to write down the things they are thankful for in a gratitude journal.

Thanksgiving Parades

Americans love a good parade, so expect to have the opportunity to enjoy a Thanksgiving parade. Students taking English courses in Washington DC should take advantage of seeing a parade in person. Check out this guide of 2019 Thanksgiving Parades in the Washington, D.C. Area to make plans. In addition, set your DVR to record the Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. A major tradition in the United States, this parade takes place Thanksgiving morning in New York City. It includes celebrities, giant balloons, performances, floats, bands, and more.

Football, Football, and More Football

Another favorite pastime for Americans is to watch hours (upon hours) of football over Thanksgiving weekend. If you are new to American football, this is the perfect opportunity to learn about the game. The tradition of filling their bellies and then heading to the couch to watch football on television started back on Thanksgiving in 1920. It continues to be a popular way to spend Thanksgiving weekend. You can catch both NFL and college football games.

A Time to Give Thanks and Give Back

Since Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks, it is natural for people to want to help others. It is the start of what is known as “the season of giving” in America. This is why you may hear about your Washington language institute friends talking about volunteering over the holiday. For example, many individuals enjoy volunteering their time over this holiday by helping serve a Thanksgiving dinner at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen. See Thanksgiving Volunteer Opportunities in Washington, D.C. before you head out and make sure you call ahead.

Shop on Black Friday

Traditionally, the Christmas shopping season in America begins the Friday immediately following Thanksgiving. It is also when many stores offer large discounts on popular items. However, in recent years, more and more stores actually begin their Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving Day. This means you can eat a Thanksgiving lunch, watch a parade or a football game, and go out shopping all on the same day. Or, you can just wait to do your shopping on Black Friday.

Take Part in a Turkey Trot

If you enjoy exercise, then sign up to participate in a DC area Turkey Trot. A turkey trot is a playful title for a Thanksgiving Day footrace. It is a great way to burn some calories – especially considering the giant Thanksgiving Day feast! At many of these footraces, you’ll see people dressed in funny and festive attire, and many of the runs raise money for good causes. Check out Turkey Trots in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Northern Virginia to find one.

Start the Christmas Holiday Festivities

Finally, it is also common for many American households to begin their Christmas traditions on Thanksgiving Day or over the holiday weekend. For example, many families decorate their homes or go find their Christmas tree over the Thanksgiving weekend. You might be surprised at just how quickly America moves from autumnal colors to red and green everything. In addition to Black Friday Christmas shopping, it is also the time of year when Christmas events and venues open up to the public, such as light shows.


Does Thanksgiving in America sound like a great way to learn English? It is!

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