Thanksgiving Traditions from the Midwest

Thanksgiving in the United States has been celebrated since the First Thanksgiving in 1621, when the Native Americans and Pilgrims got together to share a meal of gratitude for the harvest.

The First Thanksgiving

In 1620, a group of Pilgrims traveled from England to the New World to start a new life. They arrived in present-day Massachusetts and made their home in Plymouth just as winter was starting to set in. Many of the settlers died during the harsh winter because they were unfamiliar with the land and unable to grow crops in the frozen ground. In the spring, the Wampanoag people, the Native Americans living in the area, helped the Pilgrims learn how to survive in the climate in return for the Pilgrims’ help in defeating Wampanoag enemies. The Pilgrims would not have survived without the friendship of the Wampanoag.

In autumn of 1621, the Pilgrims celebrated their first harvest and invited the Wampanoag because the settlers were thankful for their help. The meal likely included foods such as deer and duck meet, seafood, cabbage, corn, and squash. This menu is quite different from a “typical” present-day Thanksgiving meal, as you will see from the recipes below.

Unfortunately, the Pilgrims soon betrayed the Wampanoag with violent battles, dangerous diseases, and slavery. This is the side of the story that often gets left out of history lessons in school. However, the overall theme of the Thanksgiving holiday is to take the time to recognize all the good in one’s life and to be thankful for it. It is a bigger concept than the story of Pilgrims and Native Americans. It is also important to remember the true history of Thanksgiving so that we can learn from the past and the violence won’t be repeated.

Thanksgiving Present Day

Much has changed since the first Thanksgiving, and while the holiday is still about being thankful, it is also about family, friends, eating, watching football and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City (arguably the most famous parade in the USA). Thanksgiving in the United States is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November with the day after being an unofficial holiday as well.

Each region in the United States celebrates Thanksgiving in its own way. Additionally, Thanksgiving traditions vary from family to family. If you would like to prepare an authentic Thanksgiving meal then look no further because I have compiled some of my favorite recipes from my family’s Thanksgiving traditions in the Midwest. But first, some vocabulary.


Cornucopia (also called the horn of plenty): A cylindrical basket that overflows with fruit, vegetables, and gifts, a symbol of abundance.


Drumstick: The turkey (or chicken) leg.

Pilgrim: A traveler who makes a journey for religious reasons. The Pilgrims at the First Thanksgiving left England in order to practice their religion freely in the New World.

Mayflower: The ship that brought the Pilgrims across the Atlantic Ocean from England to the New World in 1620.

Melting pot: A metaphor for bringing many traditions together in order to create a harmonious society. The United States is often referred to as a melting pot because of its diverse population. Immigrants arrive with traditions from their home countries. These traditions then became part of national traditions as well.

New World: The term the English used for the Americas.

Wishbone: Two-spoked turkey bone. Two people silently make a wish and then take their own side of the bone. They pull in opposite directions and the person that ends up with the larger end of the bone gets his or her wish granted.

Wampanoag: Translates to “Eastern Peoples”. The Native American tribe that celebrated the First Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims.







Sweet potatoes


Cheesy Hashbrown Hotdish


Jell-O Salad


Green bean casserole


Pumpkin pie




Pro tip: Have a pot-luck style Thanksgiving. If you are hosting a Thanksgiving dinner with friends or family, assign guests something to bring. With my family, the host cooks the turkey (because it’s the most complicated to move after it is done cooking) and everyone else brings a side dish or a dessert to share.

Thanksgiving is a time when we take a break from our busy schedules to slow down and to be thankful for friends, family, and all the good in our lives. So we sit down to share a meal with the people we love and feast without shame.

I hope that I gave you some good ideas about how to celebrate Thanksgiving! I focused mostly on food because sharing delicious homemade food with people I love is my absolute favorite thing. Each family celebrates Thanksgiving a little differently with their own unique traditions. Overall, I believe the most important part of Thanksgiving is being with loved ones.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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