The Immigrant Origins of Thanksgiving

Paola Flores-Marquez

Thanksgiving owes its popularity to two incidents in United States history: the Civil War and the immigration boom of the 1800s. President Lincoln urged Americans to celebrate Thanksgiving in the spirit of reconciliation while the war raged on, while the later rise in immigration inspired cultural leaders to offer Thanksgiving as an opportunity to welcome newcomers. Here are some of the ways immigrants have contributed to the holiday.


Pumpkin pie

It was the United States’ first immigrants who decided to combine this indigenous fruit (yes, pumpkin is a fruit) with a quintessential English invention: pie.



Do you know who owns your local bakery? Nearly 6 million workers in the United states are employed at immigrant-owned businesses, large and small.


Pecan pie

French immigrants were fascinated by the hard-shelled nuts introduced to them by Native Americans, eventually adding corn syrup, eggs and vanilla to create the “New Orleans Pie.”


Green bean casserole

Did you know that 73% of all farmworkers were born outside the United States?


Apple pie

The apples we enjoy aren’t indigenous to the United States. Cuttings were brought by immigrants. Now we make them into the most classic of American foods based on English and Dutch recipes—apple pie!



Migrant workers employed in poultry plants put in eight to 10 hour days, almost seven days a week to make sure this hearty bird makes its way to your table.


Apple cider

Cider was brought to the United States by the English, but it actually originated in medieval France.


Cranberry sauce

Native Americans introduced English immigrants to smashed cranberries, a term which is actually derived from the German kranberee— showing us that language and food migrate as much as people!


Sweet potato casserole

North Carolina is the largest supplier of this root native to Central and South America. Despite increased demand, migrant farmworkers only paid one penny per pound of sweet potatoes picked.


Mashed potatoes

The first recipe for mashed potatoes was published in the United Kingdom in 1747. The book was so popular, even the founding fathers had a copy!



Europeans have been eating stuffing since the Roman Empire, which explains why we have a variety of recipes! German-American recipes favor dried fruit, while Italian-American recipes suggest adding sausage.



The newest of Thanksgiving traditions, tamales have been eaten for millenniums in Latin America.


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