Family, food, and bed rest. Isn’t that what Thanksgiving is all about? For most of us, yes, especially if you toss in a few mixed drinks and some football.
However, America’s second favorite holiday, is also the ideal time to explore New England, considering it’s where the whole deal originated.
So while eating too much and sleeping on the couch still remains the go-to, consider taking one of these Thanksgiving-inspired getaways where you can either become part of an old tradition or start a new one of your own.
“P” for P-Town…or Pilgrim?
After more than two months of inclement weather and rocky seas, the Mayflower, and its cargo of religious-freedom seekers, reached the shores of New England in November of 1620.
But it didn’t land in Plymouth like everyone seems to think.
Instead, Provincetown holds the distinction of having been the first official stop on the Pilgrim’s Coming to the New World Tour, an event the town commemorates with a massive, 252-foot, granite tower, aptly named, “Pilgrim Monument.”
Erected in the early 1900s, the structure honors the five weeks the Pilgrims spent in Cape Cod before deeming the area inhospitable (you’d think they came during tourist season), and moving on to Plymouth.
Each year, on the night before Thanksgiving, hundreds of spectators gather in Provincetown to celebrate the occasion with the lighting of Pilgrim Monument.
In honor of the Mayflower landing, the structure is adorned with more than 3,100 “landing lights,” which are switched on as part of a two-hour ceremony, and countdown, that includes free entertainment and refreshments.
Visible from miles away, the luminescent monument remains lit through January 6, and makes for an inspiring way to observe the holiday.
Though portions of the Cape are closeted up for the season, plenty of lodgings and eateries remain open through Thanksgiving and beyond, including The Red Inn.
Located on Provincetown Harbor, the historic inn sits on the very site where the Mayflower landed, technically making the Pilgrims its first visitors, even though it wasn’t built until nearly 200 years later.
It’s the perfect place to channel the past, as well as enjoy dinner, served up on Thanksgiving Day, from noon to 8:00 p.m. (reservations are a must), and features traditional favorites like butternut squash soup, roasted turkey, and vegetable bread pudding.
As long as you’re in town, stay for the weekend and attend the lighting of P-town’s Lobster Pot Tree.
Crafted each year by a local artisan and his family, the ‘tree’ is made up of more than 100, working lobster pots borrowed from local fisherman and adorned with lights, bows, and plastic lobsters.
Crowds gather in Lopes Square at 5:30 p.m. on the Saturday after Thanksgiving to watch the lighting of the ‘tree,’ while a giant topper made up of lobster buoys is lowered on top, officially kicking off the holiday season.
You say Plymouth, I say Plimoth
After nixing Provincetown, the Pilgrims packed up, crossed the bay, and settled in Plymouth.
The following year, they joined local Native Americans in a little harvest feast that some 325 million Americans now use as an excuse to binge on gravy and pumpkin pie.
Located in Pilgrim Memorial State Park, Plymouth Rock marks the spot where the Pilgrims disembarked from the Mayflower, drawing one million visitors annually to get a look at it.
It serves as a symbol of the courage and faith of New England’s first founders, many of which died during their first, harsh winter in Plymouth.
On Thanksgiving morning, at 10 a.m., Plymouth acknowledges them during a ceremony called “Pilgrim Progress,” in which costumed participants walk through town in a reenactment of the Pilgrim’s Sabbath procession.
It’s a relatively somber event, but one that honors the past, as does the National Day of (American Indian) Mourning Ceremonies, held at noon.
The event, attended by Native Americans, along with their supporters, is intended to serve as a remembrance and a reminder of the loss of life and land they suffered at the hands of the pilgrims and other European settlers.
The weekend prior to Thanksgiving (November 17-19), the town of Plymouth, a charming seaside destination in its own right, hosts a widely-celebrated, three-day, festival full of fun and history-related activities, including demonstrations, tours along the waterfront, an ebullient Thanksgiving parade honoring America’s heritage, drum and bugle corps concert, food festival and harvest market.
The nationally-recognized event draws hundreds of thousands of visitors, many of whom will likely spend some time exploring Plimoth Plantation (and, yes, that’s the correct spelling), an indoor/outdoor museum that includes true-to-life recreations of 17th century English and Native villages.
It’s like stepping back in time, and offers visitors the opportunity to observe what life and living conditions would have been like for both the English settlers and Native Americans in the 1620s.
Throughout November, Plimoth Plantation hosts a series of “Harvest Feasts,” offering participants the experience of dining on a 17th-century meal comprised of authentic items like “pottage of cabbage,” “sweet pudding of Native corn,” and “chine of pork,” while costumed docents and historians answer questions and provide information.
On Thanksgiving Day, the museum is open and serves up a more contemporary-style turkey dinner, complete with Pilgrim and Native American interpreters on hand. There are multiple seating’s throughout the day, and reservations are required well-in-advance.
It takes a Sturbridge Village
Prior to Abe Lincoln proclaiming the last Thursday of November as a day of thanksgiving in 1863, early New Englanders celebrated the holiday on different days throughout the autumn months, depending on what state they lived in, and which day their respective governor had designated.
At that time, it was considered the most important holiday of the year, even surpassing Christmas, which wasn’t as widely celebrated.
Citizens attended church in the morning, before spending the remainder of the day feasting, leaving future generations no choice but to honor the tradition by eating way too much, and swearing off food forever; or at least until dessert.
After the big meal, it was common for the menfolk to participate in an turkey shoot (though eating turkey on Thanksgiving didn’t become the norm until more recent times), or since families were already gathered together, it was also a popular time for wedding ceremonies, which were often held at home.
Old Sturbridge Village brings many of these scenarios to life in a month-long celebration called “Bounty: Thanksgiving Traditions,” in which visitors can experience what Thanksgiving would have been like back in the 1830s, except with the added benefit of toilets and running water nearby.
On designated days, guests have the opportunity to view costumed interpreters making pies, shopping for Thanksgiving dinner, planning a wedding, or other related customs of that time period, including Native American food traditions and practices.
Open on Thanksgiving Day, the museum and offers guests two different dining options. The first is a traditional, sit-down, thanksgiving dinner that includes mulled cider, gourd soup, turkey, cranberries, and other holiday favorites, served at the Bullard Tavern.
The other is a buffet-style meal with a variety of food options including soups, salads, turkey, ham, prime rib, seafood and a host of other accoutrements served at the Oliver Wight Tavern.
Both dining options require advance reservations, and admission to the Village is required to dine at the Bullard Tavern.
Finally, guests too full to drive home can opt to book a room at the Old Sturbridge Inn & Reeder Family Lodges, located at Old Sturbridge Village.
Offering a blend of stately, but comfortable, colonial-inspired rooms, guests can choose to either stay in the Reeder Family Lodges, which have their own private entrance and curbside parking, or in the Oliver Wight House, a 10-room inn built in 1789, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Regardless of which one you choose, be assured that both offer plenty of amenities, including beds; which is all anyone needs when Thanksgiving is over.
Don’t let the parade pass you by
Okay, technically not in New England but considered one of the most beloved modern-day Thanksgiving traditions, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade first got its start in 1924 as a Christmas parade. In a two-block long procession, it featured Central Park Zoo animals, Macy’s employees, jazz bands, and was watched by a quarter million people lined up along the streets.
Now, more than 90 years later, that number has risen to more than 3.5 million. And while that sounds like a lot of people (and don’t kid yourself, it is), the parade is something that everyone should see at least once in their lifetime, crowds or not.
Marking the start of the holiday season in New York City, the spectacle boasts a dazzling array of floats, marching bands, performance groups, cheerleaders, dancers, clowns, and Macy’s giant character balloons, which for many, have come to define the event.
While attending the parade is obviously the highpoint, taking a field trip to the Upper West Side to watch the enormous balloons being inflated the day before, comes in at a very close second.
The process begins at around 3 p.m. on Wednesday and can last well into the evening. Many of the streets surrounding the American Museum of Natural History (Central Park West at 79th Street), which is where it all takes place, are blocked off to allow spectators to gather and watch teams of workers prepare the balloons for the big day.
For anyone who’s ever enjoyed the parade on television, it’s a seriously giddy experience to see them in person and watch what goes into bringing them to life.
And with so many tourists in town for the parade, New York is far from shuttered during the holiday.
Instead many restaurants remain open for business on Thanksgiving, including Central Park’s iconic Tavern on the Green, along with popular Broadway shows like Phantom of the Opera, Chicago, Wicked, and the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, which has performances at 1:00, 4:00, 7:00, and 10:00 p.m.
One downside of being in the city during one of its biggest annual events is that booking a hotel can be tricky and expensive.
A handful of hotels offer rooms directly along the parade route including, Courtyard by Marriott New York Manhattan/Herald Square, New York Hilton Midtown, and Residence Inn Times Square, but most come at a premium and are typically booked months in advance, as well as requiring a minimum stay of 2-5 nights.
For better rates and availability, book a hotel a few blocks away from the route and walk to the parade.
Of course, there’s always the option of driving or taking the train into the city for just the day, while being mindful that earlier is better (think pre-dawn) if you want to secure a good spot.
And don’t fill up on coffee first. Just saying.
For More Information:
The Red Inn:
Provincetown Lobster Pot Tree:
Pilgrim Memorial State Park & Plymouth Rock
The Pilgrim Progress:
National Day of (American Indian) Mourning Ceremonies
America’s Hometown Thanksgiving Celebration:
Old Sturbridge Village
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
Tavern on the Green
Radio City Christmas Spectacular
Information and Activities on New York City: