The Best Thanksgiving Traditions in Every State!
By Trent Jonas
Although other countries have days that celebrate gratitude, as well, Thanksgiving is a quintessentially American holiday. In the U.S., Thanksgiving came to be during the depths of the Civil War, when President Lincoln declared a national day of thanks. The holiday has no real requirements other than reflection and gratitude. This means that we are all free to celebrate Thanksgiving in any way that best suits us. Often, this means celebrating at home with family and a turkey. Each state in the U.S. puts their own unique twist on the American holiday.
A Thanksgiving tradition almost a century old, the Turkey Day Classic is a game played by intra-state rivals Alabama State and Tuskegee University. The schools are historically black universities, and the game was founded to overcome racial barriers in collegiate sports. It's now a venerable holiday tradition.
Native Americans represent a greater percentage of Alaska's population than that of any other state. Combine this with a frontier mentality and a great distance from turkeys, and what's considered "traditional" Thanksgiving fare in the 49th state is a little different from the rest of the country. The indigenous influence and abundant local game mean that salmon, octopus soup and legally-harvested whale meat are holiday staples on many Alaskan tables.
Every Thanksgiving Day, the state of Arizona is riddled by "shootouts." Not gunplay - rapid-fire sports tournaments. Whether it's basketball, hockey or softball, there seems to be a shootout for just about any sport and at any age level. Save the turkey for the post-game!
During Thanksgiving week, the town of Stuttgart hosts one of the biggest celebrations of ducks in the country. With everything from a sporting expo to fun runs and the world champion duck-calling contest, the Stuttgart Duck Festival is definitely offering turkeys some relief.
It may seem antithetical to a family holiday, but Thanksgiving-Disney-style is a sublime holiday experience. Not only do park-goers enjoy a crowd-free park, Disney Magic ensures that the Thanksgiving experience does not escape you. Several in-park venues offer traditional fare and all cast-members make sure you feel warm, welcome and right at home in the House of the Mouse.
Every year, on the Friday night after Thanksgiving, Downtown Denver's historic buildings are bathed in colorful floodlights. While the display continues through the month of December, the initial Grand Illumination draws thousands of people to the downtown area to celebrate the beginning of the holiday season.
Held annually over Thanksgiving weekend, the UBS Parade Spectacular is one of the biggest balloon parades in the country. Tens of thousands of spectators gather every year to see the whimsical collection of oversized balloons floating down the streets of Stamford.
Each Thanksgiving, the Hagley Museum and Library takes visitors back to the Victorian Era, with demonstrations of how Thanksgiving was celebrated in the first few years after Lincoln created the holiday by proclamation. With foods from the era, such as roast duck, citizens of Delaware are able to get a feel for celebrating Thanksgiving in its earliest iterations.
John F. Kennedy was the first president to officially pardon the turkey traditionally presented to the president at Thanksgiving. The modern practice, however, was established by George H.W. Bush when he offered official reprieve to the presented poultry. Subsequent administrations have kept it up, much to the relief of turkeys and the amusement of White House visitors.
Not to be outdone by bigger cities, North Miami has entertained South Floridians for more than four decades with its annual Thanksgiving Day Parade. With floats, bands, cheerleaders, and members of local sports teams like the Heat and the Dolphins, the parade draws thousands to the community every year while the turkeys are roasting.
A train ride beloved by generations of Georgians, the Pink Pig at Lenox Square began as a monorail ride at Rich's Department Store in Downtown Atlanta. Now located on the upper deck of Lenox Square Mall's parking lot near Macy's, the Pink Pig continues to be a holiday tradition that is open during Thanksgiving Week.
Every year, the members of eight college basketball teams are forced to spend Thanksgiving away from home... in Hawaii. And at same time, residents of Maui are more than content eating their turkey drumsticks and poi while taking in NCAA Division I hoops action. It's a win-win tradition for all involved.
For more than two decades, the Idaho Botanical Garden has electricfied holiday vistors. Each year, on Thanksgiving night, a switch is flipped, and over 300,000 lights and displays illuminate the botanical garden. Winter Garden aGlow remains open through New Year's Day.
A longstanding Chicago tradition, the McDonald's Thanksgiving Parade draws thousands of Thanksgiving early-risers to the Loop every year. The parade starts at 8:30 a.m. at the intersection of Congress and State Streets.
From "Mayflower Monday" at the French Lick Springs Hotel to the bountiful Thanksgiving Feast at the West Baden Springs Hotel, the resort village of French Lick has been a popular, family-friendly Thanksgiving destination for decades.
A National Historic Landmark, the seven villages of the Amana Colonies were founded by German pietists seeking religious freedom. For more than 150 years, the Colonies have exemplified a more simple way of life, and every Thanksgiving, the many inns and restaurants open their doors to the public.
A Thanksgiving week tradition for nearly 20 years, Winter Wonderland is a festive, two-mile drive through Lake Shawnee Campground. Along the way, visitors are dazzled by holiday displays that are comprised of more than two million lights.
There could hardly be a more Kentuckian way of celebrating Thanksgiving than horse racing, bourbon and a holiday feast. Revelers flock to Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, every Thanksgiving to top off a day of horses and whiskey with a lavish turkey dinner.
In a region renowned for its culinary traditions, Louisiana is a very good place to be on Thanksgiving. For example, the turducken-a chicken stuffed inside a duck stuffed inside a turkey-was invented in New Orleans, and is now an acceptable substitute for the traditional turkey. And in creole country, there will certainly be gumbo at nearly every table. Football is a bit of thing to: the Bayou Classic, a longstanding college gridiron showdown, is played at the Louisiana Superdome on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. After the turkey, it's the biggest event of the weekend.
In Maine, you will find the traditional turkey and trimmings at many tables. Increasingly, however, Maine's most famous export-its lobsters-are becoming part of the state's own Thanksgiving traditions. The fresh, juicy mud bugs add a touch of local flavor to the holiday fare. Another tradition, shared by two neighboring states, are the "blue laws" that prevent retailers from opening on Thanksgiving. This keeps the the holiday more focused on family and gratitutde and less on commerce.
In Baltimore, particularly, but throughout Maryland, Thanksgiving just isn't the same without sauerkraut on the table. The tradition lies in simple demographics: Baltimore was a gateway city for German immigrants. In fact, at the time Lincoln declared the holiday in 1863, 25 percent of the city's residents were native German speakers. As the holiday become a tradition in Maryland, so did the culinary customs of its largest immigrant base.
While the holiday may not have become official until 1863, many trace the notion of celebrating a day of thanks back to a 1621 pilgrim harvest festival. The historic Plimoth Plantation, near the site where pilgrims first established a New England colony, hosts several Thanksgiving dinners. Visitors can enjoy anything from the typical American turkey feast to a reenactment of the 1627 harvest dinner.
The most venerable of pro-football holiday traditions, the Detroit Lions have hosted a Thanksgiving Day game every year since 1934. Although their holiday record is less than stellar, Michiganders flock to see their resident NFL team play on turkey day.
While it is not unique to Minnesota, the proliferation of Thanksgiving morning races-typically five or 10 km, like the Minneapolis Turkey Day Run-across the state speaks to the hardy Midwesterners' love for the outdoors. It's also a good way to make room for the potentially-thousands of calories (often derived from tater tot hot dish and any number of jello-based salads) about to be ingested on the day. On the Friday after Thanksgiving, all Minnesota state parks waive their entry fees so you can get out and walk off that pumpkin pie.
Long-viewed as a "Yankee abolitionist holiday," Thanksgiving was not widely observed or accepted in Mississippi until the 20th century. But since it has been, it's been done up with some Southern panache. Turkey is still typical on the Mississippi holiday table, but so are sweet potato pies and stuffing made with fresh, Gulf oysters.
From holiday shows, family activities, shopping and, of course, turkey dinners, the country-music mecca of Branson makes sure that there's something to entertain everyone over the Thanksgiving holiday. Those looking for all the trappings of a traditional holiday, but with a lot less effort, make the trip to the Ozarks region of Missouri.
Apart from the typical family-and-food holiday tropes, Montanans like to get back to frontier roots over the Thanksgiving holiday. Whether it's holing up at a ranch for the weekend or heading out in the morning to hunt the holiday meal, Thanksgiving in Montana typifies the great American West of yesteryear.
After enjoying their traditional turkey dinners on Thursday, Nebraskans prep their leftovers and get ready for some hard-hitting college football. In a longstanding NCAA tradition, the Nebraska Cornhuskers play a game on the Friday after Thanksgiving. The tradition continues, even after the Huskers' move to the Big 10 conference.
Every year, the Carson Nugget hosts a free Thanksgiving dinner for all comers: Community members and visitors, alike. Each year, the dinner gets bigger, but the Nugget and its partners continue to pride themselves in celebrating Thanksgiving in the truest spirit of the holiday.
New England is proud of its heritage as the American birthplace of Thanksgiving celebrations, and New Hampshire is no exception. Of course, many families choose to stay home and enjoy their own rituals. However, a long standing tradition for many New Englanders is to head up to the Mount Washington Resort, and celebrate with family activities, a turkey trot, flag football and a feast.
After enjoying their Thanksgiving dinners, New Jersey residents can enjoy the splendor of the holiday lights displays in Cape May's Historic District. The lights are even more festive when seen from the vantage of a historic trolley. The tours start during Thanksgiving week and run through the holiday season.
The influence of Spanish colonialism and Mexican culture in the United States may be more evident in New Mexico than anywhere else in the country-and Thanksgiving is no exception. From chile-rubbed turkey to tamales and chile wine, the vibrant flavors of Latin American have a heavy influence the Thanksgiving palate in New Mexico.
The annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is a beloved national tradition that is watched by millions every year. For New Yorkers, though, it is particularly special. It has long-defined the beginning of the holiday season in New York City, and the throngs that attend the parade on Thanksgiving morning exude enough holiday cheer for the entire country.
A North Carolina tradition since 1947, the Novant Health Thanksgiving Day Parade has been a holiday staple for generations. Traveling along Tryon Street and through Uptown Charlotte, the parade attracts tens of thousands of spectators before they head home to their turkey dinners.
The self-proclaimed Christmas Capitol of North Dakota kicks off its holiday festivities during Thanksgiving weekend. After the feast has been reduced to leftovers, make the trip to the Dickens Village Festival for carriage rides, a parade of lights and nightly performances of A Christmas Carol.
Leave it to Ohio to create their own Thanksgiving Bowl Game. And, no, it's not football. Cincinnati's Turkey Bowl takes place annually at the Fountain Square ice rink. Contestants "bowl" frozen turkeys and try to knock down as many bowling pins as they can.
Each Thanksgiving weekend, for more than a decade, thousands of Oklahomans head to the river in Oklahoma City for the annual Holiday River Parade of Boats. The boats are holiday-themed and decked out with lights as the ply the waters of the Boathouse District.
While Oregonians eat their turkey and stuffing, their minds may be more focused on the weekend than on the holiday at hand. This is because the state's Willamette Valley is home to Wine Country Thanksgiving. Over the weekend, dozens of Oregon wineries open the doors to the public, offering food, entertainment, discounts and, of course, tastings. This is a Thanksgiving tradition that takes the edge off the holiday season.
While the holiday may have its roots in New England and Washington, DC, Pennsylvania plays its own part in the history of the holiday. Not only was the country's first Thanksgiving Day parade organized in Philadelphia, the city's police department also coined the phrase "Black Friday" for the the frenzy taking place the day after. Another holiday tradition is the Thanksgiving-eve chamber music concert at The German Society of Pennsylvania to start off the holiday in style.
Annually, Thanksgiving week, Newport's historic mansions-The Breakers, The Elms and Marble House-are decorated for the holidays and opened up to the public for tours. After the Thanksgiving meal is finished, the plates scraped and the leftovers put away, Rhode Islanders like to get out and see how the other half celebrates the holidays.
At Thanksgiving time every year, the community of Aiken comes together for a tradition inspired by Belgian fox hunters: The Blessing of the Hounds. Sponsored by the Aiken Hunt Club and based on the Feast of Saint Hubert, the fox hounds are blessed by clergy at the Memorial Gate in the Hitchcock Woods to kick off the holiday season in this part of South Carolina.
Every year, South Dakotans head for the Black Hills on Thanksgiving weekend to kick off the holiday season. From holiday-themed 19th-century locomotive rides on the 1880 Train in Hill City to the Tree Festival in Lead, families are sure to find themselves in the holiday spirit.
In East Tennessee, two river boats, the Star of Knoxville and the Southern Belle, offer Thanksgiving Day cruises that feature live music, entertainment and a traditional turkey dinner. Tennesseans flock to Knoxville and Chattanooga to take advantage of these Volunteer State traditions.
Another tradition that, thanks to television, has national reverberations, Texans can also enjoy their Thanksgiving football up-close and personal. A long-standing tradition, the Dallas Cowboys host another NFL team every Thanksgiving, while locals tailgate with turduckens.
In Utah, families make the trip to Thanksgiving Point, a nonprofit farm, garden and museum complex, over the holiday. Visitors enjoy the annual lighting of the luminaria, which occurs during Thanksgiving week. The farm also hosts a 5k Pilgrim Run and "Eat Like a Pilgrim" dinners, which includes a reenactment of the pilgrim's 1621 harvest meal.
During Thanksgiving week, Vermonters get a taste of how the holiday was celebrated in the 19th century at Billings Farm and Museum. With everything from "History of Thanksgiving" programs, to horse-drawn wagon rides and holiday food, the farm has something to keep the entire family happy over the holiday weekend.
Williamsburg takes Thanksgiving very seriously and draws thousands of people for the holiday every year. During the Virginia Thanksgiving Festival, visitors can participate in reenactments and sample food samples Jamestown Settlement. Colonial Williamsburg is open for shopping, and a full Thanksgiving dinner is served at Berkeley Plantation, which claims to be the site of America's first Thanksgiving in 1619.
For almost a quarter-century, the Sheraton Seattle has offered the Gingerbread Village to holiday revelers. Starting during Thanksgiving week, this village of elaborate gingerbread houses and structures is open to the public throughout the holiday season.
The state food of West Virginia, pepperoni rolls are a year-round staple and Thanksgiving is no exception. Dating back to the 1930s, pepperoni rolls are a crusty white read stuffed with pepperoni and melted cheese. Their popularity in West Virginia results from the ease with which coal miners could pack the hearty rolls and bring them for on-the-job meals.
Wisconsin is almost as famous for its water parks as it is for its beer and cheese. Residents who want to hang onto Thanksgiving family time but let go of the housework head to resorts at the Wisconsin Dells or in Door County to enjoy a few days of indoor slides, pools, and hot tubs, along with the turkey dinners - that someone else cooked.
51. Wyoming - Skiing
After packing in the Thanksgiving meal, folks from Wyoming like to get out and check out the snow pack. Alpine skiers head for Jackson Hole ski resort, which opens the Saturday after Thanksgiving.