What to Expect for Your First American Thanksgiving

With the United States easing entry restrictions and allowing vaccinated travelers in, many people are stepping foot on US soil for the first time in years or ever. If you’re coming the week of November 25, you might need to know a few things as you'll be here for American Thanksgiving.

Pumpkins are a Traditional Thanksgiving Decoration in the United States.
Pumpkins are a Traditional Thanksgiving Decoration

Being in the United States for Thanksgiving is a big deal. Americans take this holiday very seriously. It can be a lot of fun but it can also be a bit stressful. So here are some tips if you’re about to experience your first American Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Dinner

One of most delicious meals you’ll have in the States is also THE MOST stressful of them all. As the cook in the family, I can tell you that as much as I love to do it, it is a very intense day. Dinner takes days of prep and someone is cooking from the moment they wake up. As most people know, the star of the show is a turkey. The funny thing is, nobody is ever that excited about the turkey, but you always have to have it. Sides are where it’s at although if you’re not from the US, they may seem quite strange.

You'll find sweet potato casserole completely topped with marshmallows and broiled, which is basically just a dessert. Stuffing, is not something at people really stuff into the turkey anymore, but is a casserole made from dried bread cubes. It can be quite good but unfortunately, many people end up buying it from a box to make it easier. You'll probably notice that essentially everything is a casserole and that is on purpose.

Aside From the Turkey, Most Other Foods are Carbs
Aside From the Turkey, Most Other Foods are Carbs

Some other things to note for Thanksgiving dinner, it is rarely eaten past 5 pm. Nobody really knows why, but Thanksgiving dinner is more like Thanksgiving slightly delayed lunch. This is pretty unfortunate because you will find that you need to nap after such an insane meal. Another thing to know is that dessert is served right after "dinner" and the whole thing is basically one giant course. There’s also the very real possibility of eating off paper plates depending on how many people are invited over.

Thanksgiving Drama

Thanksgiving is a great time for Americans to see family and friends. Unfortunately, it can also lead to a lot of tension. If you've seen American reality tv and you thought that was bad, just wait. You'll find that American high school and university students especially will tend to get into some sort of drama with parents or grandparents.

Luckily for everyone, it’s not an election year. It’s hard to describe what many people faced at their 2020 Thanksgiving but needless to say, it wasn’t very pleasant at times.

Black Friday/Cyber Monday

There are all kinds of deals on Black Friday
There are all kinds of deals on Black Friday

One thing aside from eating that you'll find Americans doing during Thanksgiving is shopping. While much of it is online now, you can still find stores where people are lined up around the block from the night before.

While over the past few decades Black Friday has been exclusively on the day after Thanksgiving, it has shifted and now many businesses offer deals in the week before and after Thanksgiving.

If you want to experience the in store experience, be careful. Black Friday shopping crowds are known to be extremely impatient, aggressive, and single minded in their goal. In the past two decades there have been a dozen deaths and hundreds of injuries. All because of some shopping deals that don't actually go away the next day.


In the last decade, many people are understanding what Thanksgiving really was and why it can be quite problematic. While the story many of us learned in school was that Thanksgiving brought peace between the Native Americans and Pilgrims, the reality of it is much darker. The Native American's were exploited, killed, given diseases, and kicked out of their homeland. While I think it is ok to celebrate Thanksgiving given that it is more about giving thanks and family, it is good to know and understand the true history of the holiday.

While most people wouldn’t have a problem with understanding this, be aware that in the United States, people are quite defensive about their country. There are lots of people that would get angry simply by reading this and you don’t want to put yourself in an awkward position if this is your first American Thanksgiving.

The Parade, Dog Show, (American) Football, and Charlie Brown

Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Special
Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Special

Yet another thing about Thanksgiving that most international people may find strange is that every Thanksgiving, millions of Americans turn on the for one (or all) of four very specific things. Every year, a certain department store throws a parade through the streets of New York with giant balloons and other floats. It can be quite entertaining but in retrospect, a bit weird that a department store is carrying around giant balloons of pop culture figures.

Other popular events you may be subject to watching are the National Dog Show and Thanksgiving football. While no, American football isn’t "real" football, it can be entertaining to watch. Just make sure to route for your friend's/family's team.

My personal favorite thing to watch on Thanksgiving is Charlie Brown. Although it’s pretty old and quite dated, it’s a fun thing to watch every year on Thanksgiving.

For International Travelers and Americans Traveling for Thanksgiving

As you get to celebrate Thanksgiving either for the first time, first time in a few years, or even if you celebrate every year; make sure to be safe. Although drastically down from this time last year, COVID is still spreading around the world. Make sure you wear your masks in public indoor spaces and try to avoid large, mask-less crowds. If you are over the age of 12 and somehow still are unvaccinated, please do not travel and interact with people. If you’re looking to get a COVID-19 Vaccine before Thanksgiving, click here to book an appointment.