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Thanksgiving, or Thanksgiving Day (Nicknamed: Turkey Day [Día del Pavo] and called El Día de Acción de Gracias by Spanish-speaking Latinos in the U.S.), is an annual holiday celebrated in much of North America, generally observed as an expression of gratitude, usually to God.
The most common view of its origin is that it was to give thanks to God for the bounty of the autumn harvest. In the United States, the holiday is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. In Canada, where the harvest generally ends earlier in the year, the holiday is celebrated on the second Monday in October, which is observed as Columbus Day or protested as Indigenous Peoples Day in the United States.
Last Updated - 13th November 2005
Thanksgiving is traditionally celebrated with a feast shared among friends and family. In both Canada and the United States, it is an important family gathering, and people often travel long distances to be with family members for the celebration. The Thanksgiving holiday is generally a "four-day weekend" in the United States, in which Americans are given the relevant Thursday and Friday off. Thanksgiving is usually celebrated almost entirely at home, unlike the Fourth of July or Christmas, which are associated with a variety of shared public experiences (fireworks, caroling, etc). In Canada, it is a three-day weekend as Thanksgiving is observed on the second Monday of October every year.
The centerpiece of contemporary Thanksgiving in the United States and Canada is a large meal, typically in the late afternoon or evening, starring a large roasted turkey. Because turkey is the most common main dish of a Thanksgiving dinner, Thanksgiving is sometimes colloquially called Turkey Day in the USA. The USDA estimated that 269 million turkeys were raised in the country in 2003, about one-sixth of which were destined for a Thanksgiving dinner plate.
Foods other than turkey are sometimes served as the main dish for a Thanksgiving dinner. Goose and duck, foods which were traditional European centerpieces of Christmas dinners before being displaced by turkeys, are now ironically sometimes served in place of the Thanksgiving turkey. On the West Coast of the United States, Dungeness crab is common as an alternate main dish, as crab season starts in early November. Turducken, a turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken, is becoming more popular, from its base in Louisiana. Deep-fried turkey is rising in popularity as well, requiring special fryers to hold the large bird, and reportedly leading to fires and bad burns. In Maryland sauerkraut is eaten. Vegetarians or vegans may try tofurkey, a tofu based dish with imitation turkey flavor.
Many other foods are served alongside the main dish so many that, because of the amount of food, the Thanksgiving meal is sometimes served midday or early afternoon to make time for all the eating, and preparation may begin at the crack of dawn or days before.
Traditional Thanksgiving foods are sometimes specific to the day, and although some of the foods might be seen at any semi-formal meal in the United States, the meal often has something of ritual or traditional quality.
Commonly served dishes include cranberry sauce, gravy, mashed potatoes, candied yams, green beans and stuffing. For dessert, various pies are served, particularly pumpkin pie, apple pie and pecan pie.
There are also regional differences as to the "stuffing" (or "dressing") traditionally served with the turkey. Southerners generally make theirs from cornbread, while in other parts of the country white bread is the base, to which oysters, apples, chestnuts, raisins, celery and/or other vegetables, sausage or the turkey's giblets may be added. These eating patterns are very similar in Canada.
Other dishes reflect the region or cultural background of those who have come together for the meal. For example, Italian-Americans often have lasagna on the table and Ashkenazi Jews may serve noodle kugel, a sweet pudding.
Healthy Holiday Eating Tips for Thanksgiving
An average Thanksgiving dinner has over 2000 calories! It can be a real challenge if you are watching your waistline. The following are some eating tips so that you can still look good and be healthy after the Thanksgiving dinner without having to deprive yourself.
- Don't go to the Thanksgiving dinner hungry: we often eat faster and more when we are hungry - therefore eat a wholesome breakfast and lunch on the day to avoid overeating at dinner time.
- Thanksgiving dinner is not an all-you-can-eat buffet: Fill your plate half with vegetables, one quarter with a lean meat and the rest with a starch of your choice.
- Eat slowly and stop when you are full.
- Turkey - go skinless: choose your 4-oz turkey portion skinless to slash away some fat and cholesterol. Save your appetite for the side dishes and desserts.
- Side Dishes - watch your portion size: go for smaller portions. This way you can sample all the different foods. Moderation is always the key.
- Make a conscious choice to limit high fat items: high fat food items can be found in fried and creamy dishes as well as cheese-filled casseroles in a traditional Thanksgiving meal . For instance, mashed potatoes are usually made with butter and milk; green bean casseroles are often prepared with cream of mushroom soup, cheese and milk and topped with fried onions; candied yams are loaded with cream, sugar and mashmellows. If you cannot control the ingredients that go in to a dish, simply limit yourself to a smaller helping size. Again moderation is the key.
- Drink plenty of water: alcohol and coffee can dehydrate your body. Drink calorie-free water to help fill up your stomach and keep you hydrated.
Thanksgiving Turkey Tips
- Get under your turkey's skin to give it an extra punch of flavor. Whip up a mixture of butter, chopped fresh herbs and shallots -- use 1/2 cup of butter per 10 pounds of turkey - and carefully lift the skin up and rub the mixture into the meat just beneath the skin.
- To produce a turkey that's moist on the inside and crispy on the outside, place the turkey in the oven at a higher than normal turkey-cooking temperature (around 450 degrees F or 230 degrees C). After 30 minutes, reduce the heat to the temperature that your recipe recommends and cook for the remaining time.
- The secret ingredient is your time and lots of it. Buying, preparing, and roasting a turkey are time-consuming. With careful preparation and attention to timing, you will be rewarded with a beautiful and tasty main coarse.
- Your first decision will be selecting between a frozen or fresh turkey. A fresh bird is more expensive, but will save you time and precious refrigerator space. Buy the bird the day before you wish to roast it, but remember to reserve your turkey with the butcher. What a catastrophe to find that the only turkey left for your intimate four-person dinner is a 26-pound glacial beast!
- A frozen turkey needs to be defrosted. The preferred method is to defrost it in the refrigerator. Allow one day per 5 pounds. A 15-pound turkey will require three days to defrost thoroughly. An alternate method is to defrost the bird in a cold water bath. Allow 30 minutes per pound. That 15-pound turkey will require only 7 1/2 hours to defrost using this approach. It is also possible to use a combination of these methods.
- Now you are ready to prepare the turkey for roasting. First remove the giblets. This is a fundamental step not only because you might want to use them to make the gravy, but also because it is disconcerting to find these paper-wrapped lumps when carving. Next, rinse the bird inside and out. Pat dry with paper towels. If you are stuffing the bird, do so now with a freshly prepared dressing. Stuff loosely, allowing about 1/2 to 3/4 cup per pound of bird. Brush the skin with melted butter or oil. Tuck the drumsticks under the folds of skin or tie together with string. Lastly, insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. The thermometer should point towards the body, and should not touch the bone.
- Place the bird on a rack in a roasting pan, and into a preheated 350 degree F (175 degrees C) oven. Use the following chart to estimate the time required for baking.
- Weight of Bird Roasting Time (Unstuffed) Roasting Time (Stuffed)
10 to 18 pounds 3 to 3-1/2 hours 3-3/4 to 4-1/2 hours
15 to 22 pounds 3-1/2 to 4 hours 4-1/2 to 5 hours
22 to 24 pounds 4 to 4-1/2 hours 5 to 5-1/2 hours
24 to 29 pounds 4-1/2 to 5 hours 5-1/2 to 6-1/4 hours
- Bake until the skin is a light golden color, and then cover loosely with a foil tent. During the last 45 minutes of baking, remove the foil tent to brown the skin. Basting is not necessary, but will promote even browning.
- The best test for doneness is the temperature of the meat, not the color of the skin. The turkey is done when the thigh meat reaches an internal temperature of 180 degrees F, and when the breast meat reaches an internal temperature of 170 degrees F. If your turkey has been stuffed, it is important to check the temperature of the dressing. The stuffing should be 165 degrees F. When the turkey is done, remove from the oven and allow to stand for 30 minutes.
- Leftovers tend to pile up in the refrigerator when there's not enough of any one thing left to make a whole meal. Luckily, though, there are lots of versatile recipes that readily embrace the bits and pieces from all those little storage containers and plastic bags that are lurking at the back of your refrigerator shelves. With a little of this and a little of that, you can make an entirely new (and delicious!) meal.
Additional Thanksgiving Tips
- Leave Cooking And Cleaning Behind. These days, many people opt to go out for Thanksgiving instead of cooking and cleaning at home. If you're an extremely busy person, this may also work for you.
- If you don't want to miss the feeling of being at home, perhaps you might have the main course at a restaurant, and later have pie and coffee at home. In addition, lots of supermarkets and restaurants offer fully cooked Thanksgiving dinners. You simply pick everything up and place it on your table ready to be served, and if you must add a personal touch, make one special dish of your own.
- Prepare For Traveling. If you're traveling this Thanksgiving, be sure to make your packing list well ahead of time. Check items off as you're putting them into your luggage. Bring this list with you and use it to repack when you're ready to return home. It usually better that you travel a few days before Thanksgiving and come back a few days after the Thanksgiving rush. Otherwise, you're going to spend a lot of time in airports, on the road, in line, etc.
- Turkey - First, determine how much room you have in your freezer and refrigerator and how many people you will be serving. Then, order your turkey. If you need more storage space, perhaps a neighbor or relative can help you out. Rather than defrosting a frozen turkey in water on Thanksgiving Day, defrost it a few days ahead in your refrigerator instead. This saves tons of time!
- Guests - If you haven't already sent out invitations, you may consider simply calling possible guests instead. You won't have to spend a ton of time writing and mailing, and you usually get an RSVP immediately.
- Inventory - Check your supply of chairs, tables, dishes, glasses, pots, pans, serving plates, and utensils. Arrange to buy, rent, or borrow anything you don't have.
- Plan Your Meal - Plan your meal from appetizers to dessert on a piece of paper. Make a list of all ingredients needed. Bring your list when you go shopping and check items off as you put them in your cart.
- Make any meals that you can well ahead of time and freeze them. On Thanksgiving Day, just defrost, heat, and serve. You will save tons of time, plus you'll be able to join in the festivities without being stuck in the kitchen.
- You'll be happy you took care of a few things the night before. Set the table. Get the good silverware out of storage. Lay out your wardrobe -- and your kids' wardrobes.!
- Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to be thankful for health, family, friends, and all that life has to offer. Some people choose to say grace. Others prefer to simply have a moment of silence before dinner and football. Still others like to make time to read a Thanksgiving Story or a poem. Make a list of the things you want to do to make the day a special one and reference your list so you don't forget them.
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