Turkey Day Vs Thanksgiving: Which Should We Say?

According to the US Census, over 54 million Americans traveled to spend Thanksgiving with family and friends in 2018, and ‘Turkey Day’ is quite popular in Canada, too, but on a different date. So are the words ‘Thanksgiving’ and ‘Turkey Day’ interchangeable for Americans and Canadians when thinking which should we say?

For thinking which should we say, Turkey Day versus Thanksgiving, there really is no difference, as they are interchangeable in meaning. However, context and circumstance could make one more acceptable than the other. For instance, Thanksgiving is traditional whereas Turkey Day is trendy.

Thanksgiving is a holiday celebrated in North America, both the US and Canada. It’s roots are steeped in early Colonial history, but it’s popularity is also based on its family focus. However, recent trends to use Turkey Day are somewhat confusing, if not also controversial.

I’ve looked into this question and am happy to share what I’ve learned, and a few other things about Thanksgiving/Turkey Day.


Why Do Some Americans Say, ‘Happy Turkey Day’?

The slogan ‘Turkey Day’ is popular for Thanksgiving related clothing, like this baby ‘Turkey Day’ romper from Amazon.

Is saying ‘Turkey Day’ just a preference? It can be confusing for people, especially newcomers to the country (immigrants, for instance) to understand what’s meant when some say ‘Turkey Day’ and others say ‘Thanksgiving’. So then, why do some Americans say ‘Turkey Day’?

Some Americans say ‘Happy Turkey Day’ instead of ‘Thanksgiving’ for its modern, lighthearted feel. Since Thanksgiving is traditional, it can seem somber or serious (even historically controversial). This is also why marketing campaigns often use Turkey Day over Thanksgiving.

Saying ‘Happy Turkey Day’ is a way to wish someone a happy time, with family and/or friends. It evokes a festive feeling and makes one think of spending fun, relaxing, stress-free time with loved ones.

Saying Happy Turkey Day focuses the moment on the act of feasting- that is, eating of the celebratory bird (turkey).

In saying ‘Happy Thanksgiving’, it’s an entirely different feeling one sends to another. It’s almost in direct contrast to the feeling from ‘Happy Turkey Day.’

Another reason some Americans choose ‘Happy Turkey Day’ over ‘Happy Thanksgiving’ is just to be silly and funny. Thinking of the turkey in this way is again, just a lighthearted way to say ‘have a good one’ or something like that to another person, without reducing the moment to something serious (which is really more of the tone of Thanksgiving traditionally).

As well, some refrain from saying ‘Thanksgiving’ because today Thanksgiving has come under fire, with certain people calling into question treatment of Native Americans associated with the historical idea of Thanksgiving. This isn’t to say, it’s right (or wrong), but to acknowledge the reasoning behind the change for some Americans.

You might also like these Fall-related articles from ‘Hopeful Holidays’:

Is ‘Thanksgiving’ More Respectful Than ‘Turkey Day’?

For some, saying ‘Happy Thanksgiving’ is more respectful than using ‘Turkey Day.’ Thanksgiving means to be grateful and show appreciation for one’s good fortune or blessings in life, especially for food, shelter, and health. By taking ‘thanks’ out, the holiday’s true meaning is lost.

Using ‘Thanksgiving’ today is to remember the hardships of those before us, all the way back to the year 1621 when the Pilgrims were able to celebrate a feast with the Native Americans after enduring and surviving a harsh winter and feeling blessed from reaping a good harvest afterwards.

It’s also reminiscent of the camaraderie, friendship, and time of peace between two different groups of people or cultures and being thankful for that.

So in this sense, taking out ‘thanksgiving’ and substituting ‘turkey day’ just seems ungrateful and disrespectful. Essentially, it’s stripping the history and meaning out of the holiday and reducing it all down to ‘eating turkey’ when changing Thanksgiving to Turkey Day.

When Saying ‘Turkey Day’ Might Be Better

However, though ‘Thanksgiving’ is traditional and more meaningful in history and words, sometimes it might actually be better to just say ‘Happy Turkey Day.’

Saying ‘Happy Turkey Day’ makes the holiday seem light and festive. It’s an amiable greeting or goodbye to an acquaintance, co-worker, or store clerk.

Holidays can be very difficult for some. Research and medical experts have told us for years now that depression rises during holidays. So saying ‘Happy Thanksgiving’ to some people may actually cause them to feel sad or depressed, particularly those who are alone at this time.

Thus, in some situations, it might actually be better or kinder to keep the saying light and friendly (i.e. ‘Happy Turkey Day’) rather than using the traditional holiday saying.

Is Thanksgiving Religious?

Both Catholics and Protestants hold a special religious affiliation with Thanksgiving holiday.

Thanksgiving roots certainly have religious connections. This is true for both Catholics and Protestants. Nowadays, the celebration of Thanksgiving is still religious but also cultural.

Thanksgiving most certainly has religious significance, first established by the Protestant Pilgrims and Catholic-convert Squanto. However, it’s also a holiday that is celebrated by the non-religious because of its family focus and sentiment of gratitude.

Religious Connection of Thanksgiving: The Pilgrims of 1621 had fled religious persecution in England to the New World, known today as Massachusetts. However, it was not easy creating their new life and they endured many hardships, including starvation. Yet, they eventually prevailed with the help of Native American, Squanto.

Squanto was able to teach the Pilgrims how to farm (and survive) the new land since he knew English. At one time, Squanto had been captured and enslaved, taken to England. Once there, he was helped by some Franciscan Monks; they taught him English, as well as converted him to Catholicism. When Squanto returned to the New World, he was a free man. This enabled him to befriend the Pilgrims, essentially saving their lives. They celebrated a bountiful harvest together, which we consider the ‘first Thanksgiving’ in American history.

Non-Religious Connection to Thanksgiving: That being said, there are many who celebrate Thanksgiving every year with no religious affiliation. People give thanks for their lives, for what they have, for their family and friends and more, as a show of gratitude in general, not to any deity. Lots of people think of Thanksgiving as a time for family and friends, to get together, eat, have fellowship and so on.

Note: There is a modern twist to Thanksgiving called ‘Friendsgiving’ that’s come about in the recent years. This is often a ‘pre-Thanksgiving’ dinner with one’s friends or co-workers, with all the trimmings. However, as more and more people are distanced from family for one reason or another, it’s becoming common to have Friendsgiving on Thanksgiving Day, too.

Celebrating Thanksgiving Day in the United States

In the US, Thanksgiving has come to be known as a very family-oriented, less commercialized holiday.

A Story of the Pilgrims is a popular picture book (on Amazon) for teaching children about Thanksgiving as it’s remembered and celebrated in the US.

The US Thanksgiving is celebrated the fourth Thursday in November. Loved ones enjoy a large dinner together, customarily featuring a turkey. It’s a federal holiday for government employees; as well, virtually all schools, universities, businesses, retail stores, and service industries are closed.

This is a date full of meaning and tradition in American history as the Thanksgiving holiday goes all the way back to 1621.

Thanksgiving became ingrained in American culture and was subsequently, official as a national celebration in the 19th century by President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. It was thought this act could bring America back together again. Even though it may not have had the healing effect at the time, Americans as a country have celebrated Thanksgiving the 4th Thursday of November ever since.

Though most every US home has its own slants and twists on the Thanksgiving feast, traditional Thanksgiving foods include:

  • roast turkey
  • mashed potatoes and gravy
  • cranberry sauce
  • and dressing or stuffing
  • pumpkin pie

Other foods commonly eaten at the Thanksgiving table include: mac and cheese; green bean casserole; sweet potatoes; glazed carrots; deviled eggs; and pecan pie.

Note: Because it’s considered essential to have a feast at Thanksgiving, it’s just as traditional and customary in the US for churches, schools, and charitable groups to provide food baskets or boxes to needy families to ensure every home in America can dine well on this special holiday.

Yes, There is Thanksgiving Day in Canada

Thanksgiving is celebrated by both the US and Canada, only on different days.

Conversely, the US, aka ‘Americans’, are not the only ones who celebrate Thanksgiving. Our brother and sisters to the north, Canadians, honor it too.

Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving the second Monday of October. The origin of this holiday is almost the same as US, with some Englanders arriving in Canadian territory and giving thanks with a feast to celebrate their safety. However, it didn’t become an official holiday in Canada until 1879.

Like in the US, Canadians celebrate ‘Canadian Thanksgiving’ with a large family dinner, often featuring a turkey on the menu. However, Canadians are just as likely to have mincemeat pie or fish.

Although Canadian Thanksgiving is a popular holiday in Canada, it is not a federal holiday for them, so many Canadians celebrate on the weekend prior to Monday.

Note: Unlike Americans who have their biggest shopping day of the year the day after Thanksgiving, Canadians must wait until ‘Boxing Day’ (the day after Christmas) for their traditional, annual discounted shopping day.

Wrapping Up Saying Turkey Day Vs Thanksgiving

To wrap it all up, there is a difference in saying to someone, ‘Happy Turkey Day’ instead of ‘Happy Thanksgiving’ though they essentially are referring to the same holiday celebration.

Thanksgiving Day is traditional and connotes a feeling of gratitude, seriousness, and remembrance. It also connects to the original, historical ‘First Thanksgiving’ in America, for most people.

Turkey Day is a lighthearted, jovial saying that many use to keep Thanksgiving from being somber.

With this in mind, you might want to tell your grocery clerk, ‘Happy Turkey Day’ and wish your grandma, ‘Happy Thanksgiving!’

For further reading, I recommend these ‘Hopeful Holidays’ articles:

SOURCES: Britannica; Wikipedia; CNN

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