Thanksgiving in the United States is always celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, and in 2020 the holiday falls on November 26. Beginning with George Washington in 1789, annual presidential proclamations had declared the last Thursday of November as the Thanksgiving date. However, in 1941, a United States Congressional declaration officially designated the fourth Thursday of November as the date of the Thanksgiving holiday.
Thanksgiving can take place as early as November 22 or as late as November 28, depending on what day the fourth Thursday of the month falls.
- Thursday, November 26, 2020
- Thursday, November 25, 2021
- Thursday, November 24, 2022
- Thursday, November 23, 2023
- Thursday, November 28, 2024
- Thursday, November 27, 2025
Travel During Thanksgiving Week
More Americans travel for the Thanksgiving holiday than at any other time of the year, so planning ahead is crucial for trip planning. The busiest travel days by far are the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the following Sunday. If you're planning to fly, these two days will be the most expensive and you can often find much better deals by adjusting your trip just a day or two. For example, not many people fly on Thanksgiving Day itself, or if you can extend your vacation a little, fly home on the Monday after Thanksgiving instead of Sunday.
If you're driving somewhere for the holiday, the busiest traffic days are on Wednesday and Sunday, as well. AAA estimates that over 55 million Americans travel a distance of at least 50 miles for Thanksgiving, so expect the highways to be congested.
What to Do for Thanksgiving
On the Thursday of Thanksgiving, most Americans are huddled around the TV watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, outside playing football, and gathered at the dinner table for a holiday feast with family and friends. However, those who can't travel home or choose to celebrate in a non-traditional way also have options for celebrating outside of the house.
If you're in New York City, many tourist attractions are open on Thanksgiving Day, including the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, and One World Observatory. It's a great day for sightseeing without all of the usual hustle and bustle around the city. In the nearby states of New England, dinner options from Plymouth, Massachusettes, to Freeport, Maine, offer an authentic taste of Thanksgiving in the area where the first Pilgrims landed.
Options abound across the country, it just depends where you happen to be. You can spend Thanksgiving ice skating on the beach in San Diego, California; skiing on the slopes near Salt Lake City, Utah; betting at the racetracks in New Orleans, Louisiana; or watching an alternative Thanksgiving parade in Detroit, Michigan.
For a totally unconventional holiday, hop across the pond to celebrate with a luau in Hawaii. With so many tourists away from home, many of the local hotels around Waikiki and Honolulu host a Thanksgiving dinner for visitors. If you want a tropical getaway at more affordable prices, look into a Thanksgiving vacation in the Caribbean, which is in the low season for tourists in November.
What Is Open and Closed on Thanksgiving Day?
Thanksgiving is America's most universally celebrated holiday and very few businesses are open. Since it's a federal holiday, the post office, government offices, schools, libraries, universities, and banks are all closed.
Most retailers are usually closed on Thanksgiving and open early the following day for Black Friday shopping. However, it's not uncommon for some stores to open at midnight after Thanksgiving dinner or even on Thanksgiving Day to get a headstart on holiday sales, so check with individual retailers to confirm hours. Holiday hours at supermarkets and convenience stores vary, but many are open in the morning on the Thursday of Thanksgiving and close early.
Even though a big family dinner at home is the tradition, many restaurants do stay open on Thanksgiving Day and some even plan special holiday menus for brunch, lunch, or dinner, especially at hotel restaurants. Restaurants that are open on Thanksgiving usually require advance registrations, so be sure to call ahead.
What We Know About the First Thanksgiving
The origins of America's Thanksgiving holiday stretch back to 1621. The exact date of that first harvest celebration is lost to history, but it definitely took place earlier in the fall than the holiday is currently celebrated, most likely sometime between September 21 and November 9.
There is only one primary account of the first Thanksgiving feast, penned by Pilgrim Edward Winslow in a letter to a friend back home in England. From that missive, we know about 90 of the Pilgrims' Native American neighbors joined in the celebration, which went on for three days. We also know there was plenty of fowl on the menu, and it's a safe bet wild turkey was one of the birds served. Venison and even lobsters were likely on the menu as well. Historians also believe pumpkin, which is native to New England, was served during the celebration, but it wasn't baked in a pie. And since there were no apple trees yet planted in the region, there was definitely no apple pie, but one unexpected item believed to be enjoyed at the first Thanksgiving was popcorn.