American Culture – Thanksgiving

–It has been awhile since I have uploaded anything and so I thought I would share a little of what I have been working on.  The great “American Culture Project of 2012” has been, mostly, a disappointment.  The great opportunity for research and epic lesson planning has turned into a mad-dash to meet a deadline (which was yesterday! haha.. ha.. ahhh… shit).   The deadling kept getting moved up and up and up until I really didn’t have a chance to change my gameplan, it’ll be finished today; half-assed.  Oh well.

What follows is my entry for Thanksgiving.  It begins with a short essay on Thanksgiving, followed by a lesson plan based on understanding multi-culturalism.  To be honest, the lesson plan that I developed here is so general as to work for *any* cultural event or idea.  Maybe that’s a good thing.–

–American Culture – Thanksgiving–
The thanksgiving holiday is one of the most beloved celebrations in the United States and Canada (though distinct, separate events in each country, both culturally and historically).  Thanksgiving has remained a traditional holiday and avoided much of the commercialization that is found in other holidays, like Christmas or Valentine’s day in the United States.  Thanksgiving is rooted in the very origins of the colonizing of the American continent by England.  And although the factual history of the original event is almost completely unknown, Thanksgiving has been standardized and nationalized by hundreds of years of celebration.

The American thanksgiving has its roots in the Puritans (a sect of Christianity) who were religiously persecuted in their home of England.  Because they would not follow some of the laws in England in regards to religion, the Puritans were given permission to leave England and settle in the America’s.  This journey has become something of an Origin Myth for the United States, and many of the fundamental beliefs of Americans about themselves and their culture stem from the Puritans leaving England, seeking religious freedom.  A common theme of public discourse in America to this day.

Upon landing in Virginia, the Puritans and the others who came with them began settling the land. In 1621, in order to give thanks for a good harvest, a day of thanksgiving was observed.  This thanksgiving celebration was different from what the Puritans usual celebrated as a religious “day of thanksgiving”, though the 1621 event is certainly influenced by the Puritans Christianity.  It was, nevertheless, a celebration that was different than a usual Puritan “thanksgiving” celebration.  To begin, the feast lasted over three days, which was unusual for a Puritan “thanksgiving” celebration.  In addition, the puritans had come in contact with the Wampanoag Native Americans, who were also invited to participate in the celebration with the Puritans.

The Wampanoag helped the new colonists establish themselves in America by showing them how to fish for eel, and how to grow produce, like corn.  This was done mostly through the efforts of a few Native Americans who had learned English when they were enslaved by Europeans, but who had made their way back to America.

Because the Puritans did not celebrate annual holidays (such as Christmas or Easter), this “first” thanksgiving was not made an annual event for another 40 years.  By the 1660s however, the colonists of early America had established two annual celebrations, one to celebrate the harvest in the fall (thanksgiving) and another day of fasting after the winter had ended and the spring planting was to begin.  Since 1660 however, the celebration of Thanksgiving has been annually celebrated and the traditions associated with Thanksgiving have remained largely the same.

In modern times, part of what makes Thanksgiving such a beloved holiday is that it is not celebrated publically like other holidays like the 4th of July (independence day) or even Christmas.  Thanksgiving, while a national holiday, is observed by individual families centered around a meal.  In remembrance of the Puritans first thanksgiving, most American families will have a traditional meal that consists of foods that are supposed to have been part of the first thanksgiving.  Namely: potatoes, bread, corn, cranberries and as the centerpiece, a turkey (which are indigenous to the American continent).  Ham is also sometimes served in addition, or as a replacement of turkey.  A bread dish called “stuffing” is also traditionally served and comes in a variety of types.

Because Thanksgiving is focused on the family, what the family traditionally serves on thanksgiving can and does change significantly.  Some families may not eat any of the traditional foods, this is not seen as a disgrace to the holiday in part because thanksgiving is focused inwardly, on the family, and not outwardly, on the public or nation.

In addition to the dinner, Thanksgiving is a time of remembering what good things the family has experienced over the last year, giving thanks for those things.  Religiously, many families say a prayer, expressing gratitude to their deity.  Secular families may express what they are thankful for over the dinner table, either in a formal fashion (i.e. before the dinner begins, each participant says something they are thankful for) or informally, as a normal discussion while eating.

While Thanksgiving is inwardly focused on the family, there are some national events that occur on thanksgiving that are very popular.  The most prominent celebration is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, held in New York City.  The parade is a simply a celebration which includes many different kinds of floats, most famously their balloon floats of various pop culture icons.  Marching bands from high schools and universities are invited to play at the parade and various pop culture stars sing and perform.  It can be difficult to see the connection between the parade and thanksgiving itself, which has led to the saying that the parade is, “on thanksgiving but not of thanksgiving.”  Indeed, much of the parade is focused more on the upcoming Christmas season, often featuring at least one appearance of the mythical “Santa Claus”.

Another cultural event associated with thanksgiving, though not necessarily in the spirit of Thanksgiving, is American Football.  Traditionally, at least one game is played on Thanksgiving in the National Football League (NFL) by the Dallas Cowboys and some other opponent, often the Washington Redskins (a key rival of the Cowboys) or the Miami Dolphins.  The tradition of playing on thanksgiving was started, however, with the Detroit Lions.  Because these games are held on Thanksgiving, they are called the “Turkey Bowl”, a reference both to the traditional dish (the turkey) of Thanksgiving and the Super Bowl, the national championship game of the NFL.

Thanksgiving is not celebrated by all Americans however.  In particular, many Native American tribes view the Thanksgiving holiday as a European celebration of the destruction and genocide of many Native American tribes.  While the first thanksgiving in 1621 was a friendly event between the Native Americans and the European Puritans, it did not take long for the westward expansion and settlement by the colonists pushed the Native Americans off their lands.  This was done by many means, most notably by means of warfare and also by means of disease.  European diseases decimated thousands of Native American tribes, which left many weakened and easily dominated by colonists.  Native Americans were often put on forced marches across thousands of miles, other were systematically killed in what we would call today, a genocide. The most famous event of this type is call, “The Trail of Tears”, which thousands of Native Americans were forcibly marched thousands of miles in the middle of the winter.  Thousands died.

With this history in context, many Native Americans today have a separate celebration on Thanksgiving, which they call “A National Day of Mourning”.  Those that participate in the National Day of Mourning organize peaceful protests of government spaces and famously hold a meeting on the island of Alcatraz, an old prison off the coast of California.  These meetings include speeches and traditional dances and ceremonies performed by the tribes.  The goals of those who participate in the National Day of Mourning are to educate others on Native American history, which is often not adequately taught in public schools.

Lesson Plan – Thanksgiving


The Thanksgiving holiday can be a good opportunity to invite your students to think about what it means to live with and respect people of very different cultures.  This lesson fits well with grammar focused on comparatives, but can work well within any grammatical feature the students are working on (present and past participles, conjunctions, etc).  Be creative and adapt your students grammatical content to fit a broader discussion about multiculturalism.

Performance Objectives

Students will be able to (SWBAT) compare and contrast the American thanksgiving with similar cultural events around the world.  Using what the students know (like Chu-seok), students will acquire new vocabulary to comprehend and speak about the American thanksgiving.

SWBAT synthesize the information given in two audio visual short videos.  Using small groups, students will divide the responsibility for answering several questions that will explain the American Thanksgiving.

SWBAT use a Venn diagram to organize their knowledge of thanksgiving in America, compared with Chu-seok in Korea.


Powerpoint presentation,44407.msg286798.html#msg286798

Venn Diagram Maker

Before class

Set up the powerpoint so that it is ready for the class.  Prepare the videos and use them as you wish. (you can search Youtube for other videos as well.  Key words like “the real thanksgiving” are helpful for finding funny or informative videos.

Have the venn diagrams ready to be distributed.

 Warm-up (5-10 min)

Objective: Students will be introduced and will activate their prior knowledge of thanksgiving-like festivals around the world.

Learning Strategy:

Visual, audio

Teaching Strategy:

Small group work

Task Description:

Following the powerpoint (link given above), introduce the many different cultural thanksgivings from around the world.  Have students write down everything they know, all the words they know, to describe Chu-seok.  Ask students why they think so many cultures have a holiday like Chu-seok/thanksgiving.

Introduction (1 min)

Objective: Introduce to the students the topic of the class and the what the plan, or the objectives, are for that day.

Learning strategy

Audio, visual

Teaching Strategy


Task Description:

Introduce to the class the main topic of the lesson, which will focus on vocabulary for talking about Thankgiving dinner in America, followed by some videos that talk about thanksgiving.

Presentation (15 min)

Objective: Students will acquire new language needed to talk about how Americans celebrate Thanksgiving Dinner.

Learning strategy

Audio, visual

Teaching Strategy


 Task Description:

Follow the powerpoint.  Hand out the Venn diagrams.  Ask the students the different questions as they come up and follow the pictures as it explains the different side-dishes and main-dishes involved in thanksgiving.  For each new vocabulary word, have the students write them in either the “American only” circle, or in the middle circle if it is a food that you would also eat in Korea for a holiday like Thanksgiving.

After going through the vocabulary, have the students compare their venn diagrams with each other.  Do they have different answers? Why? If students disagree on whether or not an item is something they eat for Chu-seok, it can be an opportunity to talk about how different people within a single country (like Korea) may celebrate holidays differently.

Activity 2

Objective: Students will watch two videos and synthesize the information in small group work.

Learning Strategy:

Audio, visual

Teaching Strategy:

Small group work, whole class work

Task description:

Follow the powerpoint.  Introduce the two videos that will go over some history of the first American Thanksgiving.  Assign the students into groups using numbers (1, 2, 3, 4), each of which will pay attention and answer one question about the video (change the difficulty or complexity of the questions based on your own students needs and your preferences).  After watching the video and answering the questions to both videos, have the groups work together to add to their venn diagram.  What things are unique to the American Thanksgiving based on the videos? What do they share in common with Chu-seok, if anything.

After the groups have done this, have all the 1’s get together (and 2’s and 3’s and so on).  Have them talk even more about the venn diagram.  Each person in these new groups will have focused on a different part of the videos and can help their group have a more complete view of the American Thanksgiving.

Evaluation (15 min)

Objective: Students will demonstrate their understanding of American culture and also their ability to recall and use the target language of the class.

Learning Strategy:


Teaching strategy:


After students complete their venn diagram, have a class discussion talking about and using the venn diagram to compare the American Thanksgiving with Chu-seok.  Draw a venn diagram on the board and have the students share their answers.  (Depending on the level of the students and what grammatical features they have learned, they can use comparatives, or simple structures like past or present tense).

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