Thanksgiving will be observed on Thursday, November 26, 2020, and military personnel serving around the world will give thanks in many ways.
Thanksgiving Military Traditions
Major holidays such as Thanksgiving often present a challenge for military personnel who can be stationed far from home and their families on the holidays. For many people in the military community, they will celebrate Thanksgiving in a different manner every year, depending on leave status, and current operations.
Traditionally, senior leaders serve dinner to junior personnel on Thanksgiving, when possible. Newly enlisted service-members may be away from home for the first time. Meanwhile, some military spouses and their children will celebrate Thanksgiving stateside, while a loved one is deployed.
A military member’s early years might include a traditional Thanksgiving dinner on base, or an invitation to a Thanksgiving dinner hosted by a local family. As servicemembers deploy to support military operations around the world, Thanksgiving recognition shifts to dinners overseas on forward operating bases, and sharing the Thanksgiving custom with locals or Soldier’s from other countries. Married military members assigned to OCONUS bases might also celebrate Thanksgiving overseas with their family members. The possibility always exists of being deployed over the Thanksgiving holiday. If they’re lucky, they are home with their family and pay it forward (or backward) by inviting other younger service members who are away from their family into their home.
These are some military Thanksgiving traditions, but to the individual service member, their location and participation may change each year. Members of the military know that the meaning of ‘family’ can take many forms beyond DNA. It can also be tradition to have no traditions.
Today, while the holiday has been expanded to include parades, early Black Friday shopping deals, television specials, football games, and countless individual family traditions, the one thing that remains consistent is the tradition of Americans sitting down to enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner.
hanksgiving as a Part of U.S. Military History
Days of Thanksgiving were declared during both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars in an effort to unify the nation during times of war. One resolution during the Revolutionary War, asked all people to give thanks for many reasons, including:
“…To inspire our Commanders, both by Land and Sea, and all under them, with that Wisdom and Fortitude which may render them fit Instruments, under the Providence of Almighty GOD, to secure for these United States, the greatest of all human Blessings, INDEPENDENCE and PEACE…”
During the Civil War, great preparations were made to ensure that Soldiers had supplies for Thanksgiving. However, it was wartime and not every Soldier was able to stop and celebrate Thanksgiving.
By World War I, auxiliary organizations such as the Red Cross and YMCA started to aid in providing Thanksgiving dinner to soldiers. Dinners were made, and football games between rival units were organized. In France, right after Armistice Day, French families actually invited Soldiers into their homes, banquet halls were reserved, and theatrical performances were put on.
World War II saw the replacement of C- or K-rations with turkey and cranberry. Wherever possible, Thanksgiving food was shipped or transported by the military to service-members on the frontlines. In areas where it was not possible, the food was sourced from local farmers, or whatever could be put together for a meal.