Thanksgiving Symbols Explained

Thanksgiving Symbols Explained

Thanksgiving is around the corner. In this writeup Thanksgiving symbols explained to truly understand the essence of this occasion…

Thanksgiving symbolizes the joy of sharing, caring and loving. It is all about gratitude and togetherness. It is that time of the year when you want to express your gratitude towards your friends and family.

And this year when we celebrate Thanksgiving with your loved ones let us explore the symbols of Thanksgiving that have long been associated with this day.

What are the Thanksgiving symbols ??

First Thanksgiving Meal
First Thanksgiving Meal

There are 6 items which have become Thanksgiving symbols over a period of time. All six of them were part of the first Thanksgiving menu. Lets look at them one by one and learn how they became a part of Thanksgiving celebrations.

  1. Turkey
  2. Cornucopia
  3. Cranberry
  4. Corn
  5. Pumpkin
  6. Beans

You will find all these six items in many Thanksgiving recipes. But these items are not just limited to food but can also form a part of the Thanksgiving décor as well.


Turkey A Symbol of Thanksgiving
Turkey A Symbol of Thanksgiving

It is believed that during the first Thanksgiving meal the Wampanoag people brought 5 deer to the feast and the pilgrims brought fowl. There is no evidence that suggests that the fowl was turkey. But since wild turkeys were native to North America at that time it is assumed that the fowl brought to the First Thanksgiving Meal was a Turkey.

There is a practical reason also for including turkey in the Thanksgiving Dinner. Thanksgiving is generally celebrated with lots of friends and family who gather together for the feast, it is a huge crowd. Turkey is a big bird and enough to feed a huge gathering in one go. Also turkey is more affordable, easier to find and less fatty. Turkey has a bland taste and one can add any flavor to it. And this is how turkey became the ultimate symbol of holidays and America.


Corn a traditional Thanksgiving food
Is corn a traditional Thanksgiving food

Corn is one of the most traditional Thanksgiving food. The Native Americans have been growing corn even before the arrival of the Pilgrims. The Americans taught  the Pilgrims how to grow the corn and help them survive the bitter winters of 1620.

Corn was definitely part of the First Thanksgiving meal. And since then corn finds its place on every dinner table during the Thanksgiving dinner.

Ornamental corncobs are used as décor items. They are used as centerpiece or as wreath. Corns remind us of the importance and heritage of the harvest festivals.


Eating cranberries
Eating cranberries on Thanksgiving

Cranberries are one of the few fruits native to North America. They are one of the three commercially grown fruits in United States. Cranberry harvesting season is between mid September and early November. Cranberry was extensively used by The Native American as food, dye for fabric and even medicine.

 So, if you have to pick a fruit to represent the American harvest, then Cranberry it is. 

Cranberry sauce is one of the most important components of the traditional Thanksgiving meal. And is a permanent companion of the turkey roast in the Thanksgiving feast.


Cornucopia A Thanksgiving symbol

Cornucopia is a common symbol of harvest festival. A horn shaped container filled with the Earth’s harvest. It is also known as ‘Horn of plenty’. Traditional cornucopia was a curved goat’s horn filled to brim with fruits and grains.

Cornucopias can often be found on as Thanksgiving centerpieces that are usually filled with fruits like apples, raw nuts, fallen leaves, gourds and flowers. 


Pumpkin For Thanksgiving
Pumpkin A Thanksgiving Symbol

Pumpkin pie is another customary dish that you will come across on every Thanksgiving dinner table. Pumkin were a part of the traditional meals long before the arrival of the Pilgrims. Pumkin leaves were used as salads. In fact, the oldest “pumpkin pie” was very different than the one we know today. Pumpkins were hollowed out, filled with milk, spices, and honey and then baked.

The Native Americans brought pumpkins as gifts to the first settlers, and taught them the many uses for pumpkin.  Since then pumpkin has become a symbol of Harvest festival  and is always a part of the Thanksgiving meal.

Beans & the Three Sisters crops

Thanksgiving Beans & Three Sisters Crops
Thanksgiving Beans & Three Sisters Crops

Beans are the last item in the list of the Thanksgiving symbols. They are part of a triad of crops called the “Three Sisters crops” which consists of corn, beans and squash. All three crops work together in harmony to benefit one another. This makes them perfect crops for companion planting.

The bean creeper would use the cornstalk as a pole. And that is why the American beans is also called the ‘Pole Beans’.    The beans in turn provide stability to the cornstalk in windy weather. The beans when they grow enrich the soil with nitrogen that helps in the growth of corn and squash.

The large squash leaves help the soil retain its moisture, and prevent weeds from growing. Some squash leaves even have sharp spikes on them which protect all three crops from predators.

It is believed that the Native Americans taught the pilgrims how to grow beans along with the corns and squash. Since then beans have become a symbol of Thanksgiving and Harvest festival. Read more about History of Thanksgiving Dinner.

In the end Thanksgiving means being with your loved ones and being thankful for all the good things in your life. Learn more about Thanksgiving Traditions & Customs.