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Why do People Eat Turkey on Thanksgiving?

Why do People Eat Turkey on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a beloved holiday celebrated by millions of people around the world. It is a time to express gratitude, spend time with loved ones, and enjoy a bountiful feast. One of the most iconic and prominent dishes on the Thanksgiving table is turkey. But have you ever wondered why turkey has become synonymous with this holiday? In this article, we will delve into the historical, cultural, and symbolic reasons why people eat turkey on Thanksgiving.

Historical Background of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving traces its roots back to the early 17th century when the Pilgrims, who were English settlers, held a feast to give thanks for a successful harvest and to express gratitude for the Native Americans’ help. This event is often considered the origin of the Thanksgiving tradition. However, it is important to note that various cultures and civilizations have celebrated harvest festivals and expressed gratitude for centuries before the Pilgrims’ feast.

The Role of Turkey in Thanksgiving Traditions

Turkey’s association with Thanksgiving can be attributed to a blend of historical events, cultural practices, and practical considerations. In the 19th century, Sarah Josepha Hale, a prominent writer, and editor, advocated for Thanksgiving to be recognized as a national holiday. She popularized the idea of a grand feast with turkey as the centerpiece, inspired by her own New England traditions.

Symbolism and Significance of Turkey

Turkey holds symbolic significance in Thanksgiving celebrations. It is often seen as a representation of abundance, generosity, and communal sharing. The large size of a turkey allows it to feed many people, making it suitable for a gathering of family and friends. Moreover, the turkey’s natural characteristics, such as its majestic appearance and distinct taste, contribute to its role as a symbol of celebration and gratitude.

Turkey as a Festive Centerpiece

When it comes to Thanksgiving, the turkey takes center stage. It is often roasted, creating a mouthwatering aroma that fills the house and adds to the festive ambiance. Carving the turkey at the table becomes a ceremonial tradition, signifying the beginning of the meal and emphasizing the importance of togetherness and sharing.

Traditional Turkey Cooking Methods

Preparing a turkey for Thanksgiving requires careful planning and consideration. Various cooking methods include roasting, deep-frying, smoking, and grilling. Each method offers a unique flavor profile and texture. Roasting is the most common method used, as it results in a tender and juicy turkey with crispy skin.

Popular Turkey Recipes

In addition to the cooking method, the seasoning and stuffing of the turkey play a crucial role in enhancing its flavor. Popular seasonings include herbs like rosemary, thyme, and sage, as well as traditional spices such as paprika and garlic powder. Some classic options include bread-based stuffing with celery, onions, and herbs or rice-based stuffing with dried fruits and nuts.

Turkey as a Nutritious Option

Turkey is not only delicious but also a nutritious choice for Thanksgiving. It is a lean source of protein and provides essential vitamins and minerals. Turkey is lower in fat than other meats, particularly if the skin is removed. It is also a good source of B vitamins, selenium, and zinc. Including turkey as part of a balanced meal during Thanksgiving allows for a healthier approach to the feast.

Cultural Variations of Thanksgiving Meals

While turkey remains a staple for many Thanksgiving celebrations, it is important to note that cultural variations exist in the choice of dishes. Different regions and communities incorporate their unique culinary traditions into their Thanksgiving meals. For example, in Southern cuisine, dishes like smoked ham, collard greens, and cornbread stuffing may take center stage alongside or instead of turkey.

Alternative Options for Thanksgiving Meals

In recent years, alternative options for Thanksgiving meals have gained popularity. Some individuals explore vegetarian or vegan alternatives, such as stuffed acorn squash or lentil loaf, to accommodate dietary preferences or to incorporate more plant-based options into the feast. These alternatives provide creative and delicious alternatives to the traditional turkey-centric meal.

The Evolution of Thanksgiving Traditions

Thanksgiving traditions have evolved, reflecting changes in society, culture, and individual preferences. While turkey has remained a constant presence, side dishes, desserts, and beverages have seen variations and adaptations. Families now experiment with fusion cuisines, introduce global flavors, and incorporate dishes from their heritage, creating a diverse and personalized Thanksgiving experience.

The Influence of Marketing and Advertising

The association between turkey and Thanksgiving has been reinforced through marketing and advertising efforts. Turkey producers and food brands often promote turkey-centric recipes, cooking techniques, and meal-planning tips leading to Thanksgiving. This marketing influence contributes to the perception that turkey is essential to a traditional Thanksgiving feast.

Thanksgiving and Family Gatherings

Thanksgiving is a time for families to come together and strengthen their bonds. Sharing a meal, including turkey, fosters a sense of unity and connection. The act of cooking, serving, and enjoying a meal together creates cherished memories and traditions that are passed down through generations. Turkey serves as a common thread that unites families during this special occasion.

The Social Aspect of Turkey on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is not just about the food; it is about the shared experience and the joy of being together. The turkey serves as a conversation starter and a topic of discussion during the meal. It sparks conversations about cooking techniques, family recipes, and personal memories associated with Thanksgiving. The social aspect of turkey on Thanksgiving reinforces its role as a centerpiece of celebration and togetherness.


Turkey has become a quintessential part of Thanksgiving celebrations for a multitude of reasons. Its historical significance, symbolic value, and cultural traditions have made it a beloved and anticipated dish on the holiday table. As Thanksgiving continues to evolve, embracing new culinary trends and personal preferences, the turkey remains a cherished symbol of gratitude, abundance, and shared experiences.

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