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Thanksgiving is about togetherness, feasting, loved ones, and gratitude—and as these annual festivities go to show, it’s also about larger-than-life celebration. From iconic annual events like the Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City to tryptophan-thwarting turkey trots, historical reenactments, Black Friday shopping sprees, and Thanksgiving Day Football, there are plenty of ways to mark the holiday and usher in the festive season. Here are seven of the biggest Thanksgiving celebrations, all across the country.
Established roughly a century ago, New York City’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is the biggest and most jubilant celebration of its kind in the country. While watching the festivities on TV is a tradition for families across the US, nothing beats getting up close and personal with the floats, supersized balloons, marching bands, and performances in the heart of Manhattan. Arrive as early as 5 or 6am to score the best viewing spot along the route—and the next day, keep the celebration going with a tour of the newly unveiled holiday window displays on Fifth Avenue.
Perfect for history lovers, the annual America’s Hometown Thanksgiving Celebration—held in Plymouth, Massachusetts—takes the Thanksgiving festivities back 400-odd years to the country’s earliest origins. This weekend event comprises a wide-ranging schedule, including a boisterous parade, a “Portal to the Past” historian-led reenactment village, a Native American pavilion, and a waterfront festival held right by the iconic Plymouth Rock. To learn more about what early American life was like, you can also book a combination pass to the Plimoth Plantation (a living history museum), the Plimoth Grist Mill, and even a recreation of the Mayflower.
Much of the joy of Thanksgiving comes from the perfectly bronzed turkey; the cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie; the cornbread and mac and cheese. To counterbalance that cornucopia, you can hotfoot it to Detroit’s Turkey Trot. A popular annual tradition since the early 1980s, and one of the biggest such events in the country, the fun-filled run is held on Thanksgiving morning. Depending on your endurance, pick between the Michigan Mashed Potato Mile, the 5K Stuffing Strut, or the 10K Strategic Staffing Solutions Turkey Trot—or sign up for a combo run. Either way, you’re sure to work up an appetite.
If you’re itching to go on a shopping spree, hunt out bargains, or get a head start on your Christmas shopping, there are few better places to be than the Mall of America—also known as America’s Largest Mall. Across its 4,870,000 square feet (452,000 square meters) of retail and entertainment space, the Twin Cities’ Mall of America will have extended opening hours on Black Friday weekend. Plus, there’ll be a number of special deals and giveaways in honor of the festive season’s start and the TCF Rotunda will host the mall’s Holiday Music Festival series to create a seasonal soundtrack to your shopping.
New York’s Thanksgiving Day Parade may be the flagship event, but Philadelphia’s own Thanksgiving Day Parade is actually the oldest in the country—it’s been going since 1920. To get in the thick of the action (and to see balloons, floats, marching bands, tap dancers, and all the other performers who make the parade such a spectacle) snag a viewing spot along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. And given that you’re already in one of the nation’s first capitals, don’t leave without a dose of history—City of Brotherly Love style—by taking a walking tour of the Old City neighborhood to see the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Betsy Ross House, and other historic highlights.
Football has been a key component of Turkey Day since as far back as 1934. These days, the Dallas Cowboys—“America’s Team”—play host to the Thanksgiving Day Game each year. If you’re lucky enough to grab tickets, you can take in the action live at AT&T Stadium. And if not, you can still hit the Thanksgiving tailgate scene beforehand, take part in the Dallas YMCA Turkey Trot (the largest turkey trot in the country), and finish with a sightseeing tour to see more city highlights.
If you want to avoid bundling up against the New York chill to see the Thanksgiving Day Parade, enjoy a more tropical alternative at Universal Orlando Resort. During the theme park’s annual Holiday Parade, held each evening from mid-November to early January, you can get up close and personal with genuine parade balloons without the Manhattan crowds. Entry to the spectacle is included with your park admission—book tickets in advance to guarantee your spot.