The federal holiday brings together a mix of European and Native American traditions surrounding the European pilgrims’ first arrival in America in the 17th Century and the help they received from local inhabitants. Many treat it as a celebration of the pilgrims’ 3,000 mile voyage from England, and the goodwill they found when they landed on the Massachusetts shoreline.

The Thanksgiving meal commemorates a meal shared between the native Wampanoag people and the European pilgrims in 1621; a union of cultures and ideas. The centrepiece of the table is typically a baked or roasted turkey – which has even afforded this holiday the moniker ‘Turkey Day’. The meal is completed with accompanying dishes including stuffing, mashed potatoes, autumnal vegetables (such as squashes), sweetcorn and cranberry sauce, and followed by pumpkin pie.

Interestingly, of all these native foods, the turkey is the only one that the pilgrims may have been previously familiar with – thanks to the Spanish export of turkeys to England in the early 1600s.

Religious tradition is evident through the practice of saying grace, often given by the hostess or host, or guest of honour. The Christian tradition of giving is shown in charity collections for the needy – echoing the Wampanoag people’s gift of local crop knowledge and fishing techniques to the pilgrims. Many Americans believe that without the Natives’ charity, the pilgrims would have starved.

Often, celebrations with religious elements can dilute over time. Thanksgiving is no exception; enormous street parades with balloons, celebrities and processions take place in Philadelphia, St. Louis, Houston, Chicago and New York. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York is such a fixture of the holiday season that it’s televised; to many, it heralds the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. The following day is even known as ‘Black Friday’, due to the retailers’ hopes for their balance sheets.

The sporting calendar also fills up around this time, as professional and college-level American Football teams delight their packed stadiums.

The full holiday lasts for around four days, which can affect everything from the cost of air travel to shop opening hours. If you are staying with friends or relatives in the States around the end of November, look forward to a very warm welcome and more turkey than you can imagine.