Thanksgiving Ceremony

Interactive Performance

Roles:  Conceptualization  |  Grant Making  |  Research & Script Writing

The origins of American holidays are relatively new; so much so that our customs are often rooted in modern living. Thanksgiving practices include watching football during dinner, familial drunkenness and feuding, reenacting a fictitious camaraderie between Pilgrims and Indians, and watching the Macy’s Day Parade. The recentness of these practices detracts from the sense of tradition so that they are viewed as habit rather than ceremony. At what point does a routine become tradition? How does family tradition (or idiosyncratic tradition) culturally disseminate and become national tradition, and thus part of our heritage and identity?


In November of 2014, with support from the Kirukkiruk Artist Residency, 15 people were invited to participate in a Thanksgiving ceremony and dinner in Incheon, South Korea. The intention of the scripted ceremony was to ritualize modern Thanksgiving customs. The ceremony was largely fictive and drew on actual American practices. The use of ritualization and ceremony was an attempt to cement these practices in the cult of tradition.

The ceremony began with a scripted, oral history of the holiday and traditional foods. The script included segments of audience participation and call-and-response. In allusion to the rituals from other cultures, such as Chuseok in Korea, or the Jewish tradition of Passover, certain foods, sayings, and gestures were ritualized during the reading of the script. 

Each seat at the table was assigned a name card with a particular role, such as “Elderly Grandma”, “Drunk Uncle”, or “Teen Nephew”. Participants chose which role they wanted to play. Each role had simple directives that were written inside the namecard, which participants performed throughout the meal. One such directive was, “Turn the TV volume down every time ‘Football Uncle’ turns the volume up.” By assigning directives, the actions of the guests were formalized in ceremony and became representations of familial roles and practices. Formal representations can be performed and recreated in the future, which perpetuates tradition. 

Continue the tradition: Download the Thanksgiving Ceremony Script here