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Advanced level English 


USA - American life 

  
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Thanksgiving 

        - a very American festival


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                Thanksgiving is perhaps the most American of America's festivals. While many countries have days when everyone eats a lot, only the Americans have a day on which they celebrate having enough to eat. Perhaps this may seem rather superfluous in a country whose inhabitants are today among the best-fed in the world; but to Americans, Thanksgiving is a reminder that this was not always the case.

The first Thanksgiving
The First Thanksgiving in 1621  - from a painting by JLG Ferris
   The last weeks of the year are a festive time in most countries; but while Europeans just celebrate Christmas and the New Year, Americans begin their festive season about a month earlier. The feast of Thanksgiving, celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November, is second only in importance to Christmas in the American calendar of feast days.
    Thanksgiving is the oldest non-Indian tradition in the United States, and was first celebrated in the year 1621. It was in this year that the men and women in Plymouth, one of the first New England colonies, decided to establish a feast day to mark the end of the farming year.
    As devout Protestants, they called their feast day "Thanksgiving", a day on which people could celebrate and give thanks to God for the crops that they had managed to grow and harvest. This was not in fact an original idea, but was based on the English "Harvest Festival", an old custom whereby people gave thanks to God once the crops were all in.
    In America however, a successful harvest was more significant than in England, for any failure to bring in an adequate supply of crops could be fatal for a new colony, struggling to set itself up in an alien continent. Several early North Americans colonies failed because the colonists were killed off by disease or fighting, and others perished because they did not have time to prepare enough land and grow enough food for their needs during the long cold winter months. The year 1621 was a particularly bountiful one for the Plymouth colonists, so they  "gave thanks" for their good fortunes.
    In the years that followed, other colonies introduced their own Thanksgiving festivals, each one at first choosing its own date, and many varying the date according to the state of the harvests. In 1789, President George Washington gave an official Thanksgiving Day address in honor of the new Constitution; and Thanksgiving Day, like Independence Day (July 4th) became one of America's great days.
    Nevertheless, at first the date was not fixed nationally; indeed, it was not until 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln declared that Thanksgiving Day should be celebrated on the last Thursday of November. Other presidents made similar proclamations, and the date of Thanksgiving tended to move around until the year 1941, when Congress and the President jointly declared that it should henceforth be fixed on the fourth Thursday of November. Since then, Thanksgiving Day has remained fixed.

    THANKSGIVING RITES

    Once a communal festival, where whole communities celebrated together, Thanksgiving is today the great family festival; but apart from that, it has not changed greatly.
    The heart of Thanksgiving is still the fruit of the land; and the Thanksgiving feast is based, essentially, on the native American foods that allowed the early settlers to survive: turkey, corn, potatoes and squash.
    The wild turkeys, large birds that lived in the forests of North America, were like a miracle for the early colonists who could trap them with ease; and turkey has always been the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving feast.
    Potatoes were unknown to Europeans before the discovery of North America, and it was Indians who taught the early colonists how to grow them and eat them.
    Maize, the great native North American cereal, is another ingredient of the Thanksgiving meal, eaten in the form of sweet corn.
    Finally, for dessert, no Thanksgiving meal is complete without "pumpkin pie", the traditional  tart made from pumpkins, enormous round orange types of squash.

WORDS:

devout: strict, pious - crops: plants that can be eaten - harvest : picking of fruit, or cutting of cereal crops -  custom: something done regularly - failure (n) : from the verb to fail, to not succeed - struggle: fight - disease: sickness - bountiful: abundant - address: speech - henceforth: from that time onwards - squash: vegetables such as courgettes (zucchini) and marrows.
 
Copyright notice.

This resource is © copyright Linguapress 1996 - 2020.   Originally published in Spectrum magazine.
This text may not be reproduced on other websites nor in printed form without written permission from the publishers. Reproduction is authorised exclusively for personal use by students, or for use by teachers with their classes.



 

Student interactive worksheet  -  Thanksgiving

1. Rephrase the following sentences in your own words, starting with the prompt given:


1. Thanksgiving is second only in importance to Christmas in the American calendar of feast days.   
    Christmas is 

2. Any failure to bring in an adequate supply of crops could be fatal for a new colony.
    A new colony 

3. Turkey has always been the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving feast.
    Americans

4. Potatoes were unknown to Europeans before the discovery of North America.
    Until North America  no-one 

2. Put back the articles - the definite article the or the indefinite article a/an - when they are required in this extract from the text. If no article is possible, just leave the - marker
 
last weeks of year are festive time in most countries; but while Europeans just celebrate Christmas and _ New Year, Americans begin their festive season about month earlier. feast of Thanksgiving, celebrated on fourth Thursday in November, is second only in importance to Christmas in American calendar of feast days.
    Thanksgiving is  oldest non-Indian tradition in United States, and was first celebrated in year 1621. It was in this year that men and women in Plymouth, one of first New England colonies, decided to establish  feast day to mark end of farming year.

For a full guide to  the rules of article use, see Descriptive Grammar of English pages 98 - 112. ISBN 979 - 8645611750.  Available in Ebook and paperback versions .

 3. Question forming: Make up questions on the subject of Thanksgiving, beginning with the following openings:

Since when 

When 

Who 

How many 

How often 

Where 

Why 

What sort of 

 . For teachers:

Articles cloze exercise
There are 24 blanks that students may need to fill in with an article. In most cases only one answer is possible; but in two cases two options are grammatically possible.  The meanings are obviously not quite the same, but it is important not to penalise students for proposing an answer that could, both logically and grammatically, be right.  Here is the text with the alternative acceptable wording added in red.  ( Ø) = no article.

The last weeks of the (a) year are a festive time in most countries; but while Europeans just celebrate Christmas and the New Year, Americans begin their festive season about a month earlier. The feast of Thanksgiving, celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November, is second only in importance to Christmas in the American calendar of feast days.
    Thanksgiving is the oldest non-Indian tradition in the United States, and was first celebrated in the year 1621. It was in this year that the ( Ø) men and women in Plymouth, one of the first New England colonies, decided to establish a feast day to mark the end of the farming year.

Question forming:
When students have made up their questions, divide them into pairs and have them answer each other's questions. Depending on the type of group or class, this can be eithe an oral or a written activity.Then have them swap questions with a friend, and answer each other's questions.


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Advanced level English resource

Level - Advanced
CEFR  LEVEL :  C1
IELTS Level :  7 - 8
Flesch-Kincaid  scores
Reading ease level:
45 - Difficult

Grade level: 14


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First published in Spectrum, the advanced level English newsmagazine.
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