This Is How Thanksgiving Is Different Across the Country
Meet the town that celebrates Turkey Day like it's the Fourth.
Sure, the typical Thanksgiving features three things: family, food, and football. Take a peak into the country’s diverse regions, though, and you’ll notice stark differences—everything from how and when food is prepared to what revelers decide to do before and after chowing down. (Would you believe us that some states grill their turkey? Or that one town goes all in on the fireworks like it’s the Fourth of July?)
Here, to shed light on how Thanksgiving is celebrated in different parts of this vast country, we’ve rounded up the recipes, traditions, and entertainment choices specific to different states. And if you’re looking for help making it through the day intact, steal these 17 Top Tips from Psychologists for Dealing with Holiday Stress.
Rockland, Maine: Lobster Dinner
In Maine and some other New England states, like Vermont, lobster is considered a must-have on Thanksgiving. And New Englanders might be hewing to tradition, because, according to a History Channel report, lobster and other crustaceans were likely eaten at the first Thanksgiving feast. And if you’ve got your meals covered, but need help with drinks, here are the 20 Best Thanksgiving Wines Under $30.
Plymouth, Massachusetts: National Day of Mourning
Plymouth, Massachusetts—home to the very first Thanksgiving—holds the National Day of Mourning on Thanksgiving every year. The day is an annual protest to remind the public about the suffering of Native Americans as a result of 16th-century emigration. Native Americans in New England started the tradition in 1970.
Los Angeles, California: Grilled Turkey
The West Coast’s warm weather influences how California does their cooking on Thanksgiving. States in the West often grill their turkeys. Before you balk at such methods, know that there are myriad advantages to grilling your turkey.
For starters, it’s faster than an oven cook. It also leaves room in the oven for other savory dishes, like casseroles (yum). Finally, it’s healthier—you skip out on all the added oils. (If you’re looking for the absolute healthiest way to grill, though, here’s why you should use a gas one. Sorry, charcoal fans.)
Jackson, Mississippi: “Dressing”
The great Thanksgiving debate: Is it “stuffing,” or is it “dressing?” Well, according to Huffpost, though you may very well know the dish as “stuffing” (and refuse to accept anything else as fact), the South refers to this starchy favorite as “dressing.” Oh, and fun fact: Mississippi is the state with the most searches for “dressing” recipes.
Detroit, Michigan: Detroit Lions Football Game
Michigan is home to The Detroit Lions—the other, non-Cowboys team that hosts a home game every Thanksgiving—giving their fans something to look forward to every year. Cheering for the Lions on Thanksgiving is a favorite Turkey Day pastime of Michigan (and the Midwest as a whole).
Anchorage, Alaska: Great Alaska Shootout
Though football is traditionally viewed as the ultimate Thanksgiving sport, Alaskans tend to watch a different type of game on Thanksgiving: basketball. The Great Alaska Shootout is a college basketball tournament held on Thanksgiving in Anchorage every year. Fans flock to Anchorage, or tune in on TV in order to get their sports fix, since they don’t have a professional football team to cheer for.
Santa Fe, New Mexico: Spicy Thanksgiving Dinner
States with Spanish and Mexican influences, like New Mexico and Arizona, tend to quite literally spice things up on Thanksgiving—by making the traditional Thanksgiving foods spicier. If you spend Thanksgiving in Santa Fe, for instance, don’t be surprised if you’re served a chile-rubbed turkey. The region is also known for including delicious local delicacies, like pumpkin empanadas, in their Thanksgiving day festivities.
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee: Thanksgiving Night Fireworks
Tennessee celebrates Thanksgiving with an explosive tradition usually saved for the Fourth of July. The Titanic Museum—one of the town’s major attractions—puts on an annual Thanksgiving Night Fireworks show. According to the city’s website, it’s Pigeon Forge’s largest fireworks event of the year.
Honolulu, Hawaii: Thanksgiving Luau
Hawaiian luaus are often held on Thanksgiving day. The celebration usually features poke appetizers, and taro side dishes. The traditional Thanksgiving turkey is usually swapped for a main dish of kalua pig.
Austin, Texas: Deep-Fried Turkey
Texas and other states in the South maintain the turkey tradition, but add a twist by frying it. That’s right—fried turkey! Other Southern staples include bacon, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, a generous batch of cherished sweet tea, and, for dessert, sweet potato pie. Also, Southerners add bacon in just about any dish they can, including dressing (remember: not stuffing!). For our money, though, this is The One Way to Cook a Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey.
Dallas, Texas: Dallas Cowboys Football Game
Texas and other Southern states tend to eat their Thanksgiving feast during the early afternoon hours, so that they’re done by game time. The Dallas Cowboys, a beloved football team (you may have heard of them), plays every Thanksgiving. According to SportsDay, the Dallas Cowboys’ first time hosting a game on the holiday was in 1966, when a crowd of 82,259 fans (a new team record for the time) showed up. The Cowboys have hosted a Thanksgiving home game almost every year since then, creating a Turkey Day tradition that, today, millions of fans love.
Dana Point, California: Turkey Trot
The West Coast is all about soaking up the sun on Thanksgiving. These states take advantage of the golden coast’s perfect weather by incorporating physical activities, like running, into Thanksgiving festivities. California hosts turkey trots all around the state, but one of the country’s largest such Thanksgiving Day races is held in Dana Point, California. The event’s slogan? “Run the race before you stuff your face.”
Sure, you’ll find turkey trots from coast to coast. But the catch here is that it’s about a good cause. Proceeds benefit the Dana Point Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9934 and other charities. What better way to give back while celebrating the season to be thankful? If you’re looking for another way to give back this Thanksgiving, check out 33 Charitable Opportunities to Participate in This Holiday Season.
Indianapolis, Indiana: Persimmon Pudding
According to Thanksgiving & Co, Indiana is known for putting a spin on dessert by taking advantage of a locally grown fruit and serving persimmon pudding during Thanksgiving.
New York, New York: Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
New York City is home to the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a New York City stalwart since the 1920s. According to Forbes, about 3.5 million people attend the parade each year, and millions more tune in to watch it on live TV.
Saint Paul, Minnesota: Comfort Food
Thanksgiving in Minnesota and the Midwest is filled with exactly what you think of when you hear “comfort food,” usually in the form of casseroles—specifically green bean casserole and wild rice casserole. Wild rice—the official state grain of Minnesota, by the way—is also commonly used in other Midwestern Thanksgiving dishes, because it’s a local crop.
Baltimore, Maryland: Sauerkraut Side
Baltimore, Maryland, is known for having a side dish of sauerkraut on the Thanksgiving table. Sure, this may sound a bit odd to outsiders, but it is a testament to the city’s deep German heritage.
Kansas City, Kansas: Country Plaza Lighting Ceremony
Every Thanksgiving Kansas City celebrates with a Christmas lighting ceremony to get ready for the coming holiday season. According to Country Club Plaza, the annual lighting ceremony features live music, fireworks, and a “switch flipping” ceremony that leaves the Country Club Plaza decorated with a whopping 80 miles total of colorful Christmas lights. And for more fascinating insight into the year’s best holiday, here are 30 Amazing Things You Never Knew About Thanksgiving.
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