Thanksgiving Day is what its name implies: a day to give thanks for the blessings we receive during the year. Originally, this day was set aside to give thanks for a plentiful harvest. But modern Thanksgiving observances not only celebrate Earth’s bounty but also all good fortune.
Families gather together for big dinners and reunions. Surprisingly, the first Thanksgiving observance did not involve food. But less than a year after the Plymouth colonists settled in America, they held a three-day harvest festival complete with ducks, geese, clams, plums, leeks, cornbread, and, yes, turkey.
•Thanksgiving Day is a day normally associated with food — lots of it. Have students scan the newspaper’s grocery ads and identify the traditional Thanksgiving Day foods. Talk about how some of those foods, such as cranberries, became “traditional” because of their availability for the first Thanksgiving observances. Discuss whether those foods are produced or grown locally today or are shipped from other parts of the country. Conclude by asking them to plan a Thanksgiving Day menu that includes only items locally grown or produced.
•Talk about food as symbols. For example, Indian corn is often used as decoration during the Thanksgiving season because the Native Americans taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn. The Pilgrims survived their first harsh winter in America thanks to the corn harvest. Illustrate this concept by having students research other Thanksgiving foods to see if they are symbolic. Then have them search newspaper ads for foods that are used to stand for or represent something else. Ask them to share their examples with the class.
•Today, Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the winter gift-giving season. In fact, the day after Thanksgiving is traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year. Have students watch the newspaper on the days leading up to Thanksgiving. Have them chart the number of stores that have scheduled after-Thanksgiving sales and specials. Extend the activity by having each student pretend he or she is going on a shopping excursion the day after Thanksgiving. They can “shop” for a specific item(s), comparing prices in the newspaper. Or they can map out their day by pinpointing which stores they want to go to and how to get there. They can do this individually or in small groups.
JUST FOR FUN: Go on a newspaper scavenger hunt for the following Thanksgiving-related items:
1) A food that you’d like to eat for Thanksgiving;
2) A place you’d like to visit during Thanksgiving;
3) Something for which you’re thankful this year;
4) Information about a Thanksgiving-related event in your area;
5) Someone who has reason to be thankful this year;
6) The word “thanks” or “Thanksgiving” in today’s newspaper;
7) The word “turkey” or a photo or graphic of one; and the thing in today’s news that you think the first Thanksgiving guests would be surprised by the most.