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Thanksgiving Symbols and Symbolic Interactionism

Symbolic interactionism is a sociological perspective that focuses on how symbols and shared meanings shape and influence human interactions. It posits that individuals construct their social reality through the exchange of symbols and the interpretation of these symbols by others. In this blog, we will delve into the world of Thanksgiving through the lens of symbolic interactionism, examining the holiday’s symbols and associated meanings.

Understanding Symbolic Interactionism

Symbolic Interactionism is a sociological theory that developed in the early 20th century, primarily associated with the works of scholars George Herbert Mead, Charles Horton Cooley, and Herbert Blumer. This perspective emphasizes the following key ideas:

  1. Symbols: Symbols are the building blocks of social life. These can include words, gestures, objects, and even concepts. Symbols are imbued with meaning, and individuals use them to communicate and interpret the world around them.
  2. Meaning: The meaning of symbols is not fixed or universal. Instead, it is socially constructed and can vary from person to person, and place to place. Individuals give meaning to symbols based on their social context, personal experiences, and cultural background.
  3. Interaction: Humans engage in interactions with one another based on the meanings they ascribe to symbols. This interaction is not just physical or verbal but also involves a complex process of interpreting symbols and adjusting behaviors based on these interpretations.
  4. Social Reality: Through these interactions, individuals collectively construct their social reality. The way they perceive the world, including their roles, identities, and relationships, is a product of this ongoing process.

Now, let’s explore the symbols of Thanksgiving and how they are laden with meaning through the perspective of symbolic interactionism.

What are Thanksgiving Symbols?


The Thanksgiving turkey is perhaps the most iconic symbol of the holiday. It is not merely a bird on a platter; it represents abundance, tradition, and family. The symbolic meaning of the turkey is constructed through various interactions:

  • Abundance: The turkey symbolizes an abundant harvest, a time when food is plentiful, and hunger is temporarily banished. Families prepare large turkeys to share with loved ones, and the act of presenting such a generous feast is a statement of abundance and prosperity.
  • Tradition: Thanksgiving traditions often revolve around the turkey. The act of roasting or baking a turkey is a shared cultural practice, passed down through generations. When individuals interact with the turkey, they are also interacting with the traditions and customs of the holiday.
  • Family: The turkey is a symbol of togetherness. Families gather around the table to enjoy this communal meal. For some, it may represent family reunions, a time to come together and connect with loved ones.


The cornucopia, or the “horn of plenty,” is another symbol associated with Thanksgiving, often depicted overflowing with fruits and vegetables. It symbolizes the bountiful harvest and the abundance of nature. The meaning of the cornucopia is constructed through interactions:

  • Prosperity: The overflowing cornucopia symbolizes prosperity and plenty. When individuals see this symbol, they interpret it as a sign of good fortune and abundance.
  • Nature’s Gifts: The fruits and vegetables spilling from the cornucopia are seen as the gifts of nature. This symbolizes a connection to the land and an appreciation for the Earth’s bounty.

Pumpkin Pie is one of Many Thanksgiving Symbols

Pumpkin pie is perhaps every American’s favorite Thanksgiving symbol. The meaning attributed pumpkin pie is constructed through personal and cultural interactions:

  • Tradition and Comfort: Pumpkin pie is often seen as a symbol of tradition and comfort. It is a dessert that many associate with their childhood and family gatherings, evoking a sense of nostalgia and security.
  • Harvest Celebration: The pumpkin itself is a symbol of the harvest season. When individuals consume pumpkin pie, they are participating in a symbolic celebration of the harvest.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a prominent symbol of Thanksgiving in the United States. It represents a unique form of symbolic interactionism.

  • Community and Togetherness: The parade is an event that brings communities together to watch giant balloons, floats, and performances. It symbolizes a sense of shared experience and collective joy.
  • Media and Pop Culture: In a broader context, the parade is a symbol of media and pop culture. It is an event watched by millions on television, and it represents the intersection of entertainment and tradition.

Final Thoughts on Symbolic Interactionism and Thanksgiving Symbols

Thanksgiving, like many cultural events, is rich with symbols that carry different meanings for individuals and communities. Symbolic interactionism helps us understand how these symbols are constructed and interpreted in the context of this holiday. Whether it’s the Thanksgiving turkey, cornucopia, or the representation of Pilgrims and Native Americans, the meanings we ascribe to these symbols are socially constructed through interactions and are deeply rooted in culture and tradition.

By examining Thanksgiving through the lens of Symbolic interactionism, we gain a deeper appreciation of how symbols shape our experiences and social realities during this holiday season.

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