Thanksgiving traditions are evolving to reflect the new cultural and societal makeup of the U.S., finds The NPD Group, a global information company, and its research partner, CultureWaves, a consumer qualitative insights company that looks at consumer behavioral data.
A mix of influences—economic, ethnic, generational, health, pop culture and our social structure—are shaping the new Thanksgiving traditions. Thanksgiving is now a meal with family or “family” redefined, a shopping experience, an entertainment experience, and, for many, a workday. An aspect of Thanksgiving tradition that has remained the same is that most Americans choose to celebrate the meal in a home, theirs or someone else’s.
What’s influencing new Thanksgiving traditions, according to CultureWaves:
Generational – Baby boomers are de-cluttering their lives and shifting their focus to be less about maintaining how things always have been instead, they are centered on making and maintaining connections. Members of Generation X are all about adapting bits and pieces of the traditions they grew up with and mashing them up with things that fit their current needs, without clinging to anything that does not give them joy. Millennials find themselves a little nostalgic for family tradition, but also realistic that a lot of that is media-generated and not actually what they lived out in real life.
Cultural Influence – There is actually a new type of ethnicity in America, as we begin to seek out and identify with a culture that works for us. It may not be a culture from our own past but it is just as likely to be one that we have adopted. We are more comfortable integrating those various influences into our daily lives, including our meals. What we’re likely to see is pieces of various cultures fitting into the traditional Thanksgiving meal in unexpected ways—like a Szechuan green bean casserole, or mashed potatoes made with Manchego cheese.
“The key point is that as American culture evolves, the core of each American holiday is becoming focused on the people over the celebration itself,” said Locke Hilderbrand, executive vice president and chief insights officer, CultureWaves. “Holidays are now an outlet in which to connect, regardless of what cultural traditions may or may not be present. This allows for new holiday events and occasions to be created, as more families and friends intertwine their traditions and customs to create new ones that celebrate personal tradition.”
Regardless of how the celebration is changing, the Thanksgiving dinner is really an at home occasion, according to NPD Group, which continually tracks all aspects of how U.S. consumers eat:
48% of Americans eat their Thanksgiving meal at home that day, while another 44% eat in someone else’s home. Only 3% had their big meal at a full service restaurant.
Consumers do use restaurants on Thanksgiving since there is more than one meal happening that day. The meal most likely to be eaten at a restaurant is breakfast — 19% of consumers eat breakfast at a restaurant.
Restaurant take out, on the other hand, is something Americans take advantage of on Thanksgiving:
29% of Thanksgiving Day holiday celebrations include an item sourced ready-to-eat from foodservice.
57% include items that were “completely homemade” from a restaurant or foodservice outlet.
“As much as things change, we know that many of the traditional Thanksgiving foods have remained the same,” said David Portalatin, vice president, food industry analyst at NPD Group and author of the recently published Eating Patterns in America. “The majority of Thanksgiving feasts will include a turkey, although that turkey may be dressed in non-traditional spices and flavorings. And even with all of the changes going on in our society, we have managed to keep the spirit of the first Thanksgiving intact, and that is sharing a meal and spending time with family, friends, or whomever one chooses.”