Celebrating Thanksgiving in Spanish

Words for the holiday

Roast turkey (pavo asado) for Thanksgiving.
Un pavo asado. (A roast turkey.).

Tim Sackton / Creative Commons.

Prepare to speak Spanish on Thanksgiving by learning these words.

Many of these words don't have much of a cultural context outside the U.S. and Canada, which celebrates its Thanksgiving in October, as no Spanish-speaking countries have a version of Thanksgiving. The phrase for Thanksgiving, by the way, is Día de Acción de Gracias. That's a mouthful that could be translated literally as the "day of the act of thanks." The French form is similar—the Canadian Thanksgiving is known as l'Action de Grâce.

Holiday-Related Words

agradecido (por)—thankful (for)
ciberlunes—Cyber Monday
la colonia—colony
compartir, repartir—to share
el cuerno de la abundancia, la cornucopia—cornucopia
el desfile—parade
la familiafamily
la festividad de la cosecha
—harvest festival
el fútbol americanofootball (not soccer)
gluglú gluglú—gobble gobble (turkey sound)
las gracias—thanks
el indio, la india, el indígena americano, la indígena americana—American Indian, native American
el noviembreNovember
el otoño
autumn, fall
los parientes—relatives
el peregrino—pilgrim
el viernes negro, el viernes de descuentos—Black Friday

Food-Related Words

Keep in mind that names of foods don't necessarily translate well, or might not be understood in Spanish-speaking countries, due to cultural differences. For example, the various words that can be translated as "pie" include pastel, tarta, empanada, and even pay (pronounced similarly to the English word). All of those words except the last also refer to other types of desserts.
Also, it is common with fruits and vegetables for a popular name to be applied to multiple botanical classifications. For example, there are at least eight species of tuberous plants called ñames (yams), and a few are unlike what you might find in the U.S. 

el arándano rojo—cranberry
el banquete—feast
el budín, el pudín—pudding
la cazuela—casserole
la cena—dinner
comer—to eat
la cucurbitácea, la calabaza —squash (the same Spanish terms also are used for other related plants)
el maíz—corn
la mazorca de maíz—corn on the cob
el ñame, la batata, el boniato—yam
el panecillo—dinner roll
el pastel (o la tarta) de calabaza—pumpkin pie
el pavo—turkey
el pavo asado—roast turkey
el puré de patatas—mashed potatoes
el rellenostuffing, turkey dressing
la salsa para carne—gravy
las sobras, los restos—leftovers
las verduras—vegetables

Vocabulary Notes

Ñame, the word for "yam" is one of the few Spanish words to start with ñ. Among the more common ones are ñoño (insipid or dull) and words derived from it, ñora (red pepper), and ñu (gnu).

Panecillo shows how diminutive suffixes are used. Pan is the word for bread, so even if you didn't know what panecillo means, you might guess that it is a small type of bread.

In Spanish, it is sometimes possible to distinguish between male and female animals by using the masculine and feminine forms of the word. Thus a female turkey is una pava. Some other animal names follow a similar pattern: Una mona is a female monkey, una polla is a young hen (and also an off-color word with a different meaning), and una puerca is a sow. But don't assume that any feminine animal name refers to the feminine of the species. For example, una jirafa is a giraffe regardless of its sex.

While relleno would normally be used to refer to turkey stuffing, the same word can be used for just about any type of food filling. A stuffed chili, for example, is known as a chile relleno.

While verduras is the word to use when talking about vegetables as a food, vegetales is used more often when talking about vegetables as a type of plant.

Sample Sentences

Los indios de la tribu de los Wampanoag enseñaron a los peregrinos cómo sembrar maíz. (The Indians of the Wampanoag tribe taught the pilgrims how to plant corn.)

Generalmente el Día de Acción de Gracia coincide con el último jueves de noviembre, pero algunas veces es el antepenúltimo. (Generally Thanksgiving is on the last Thursday of November, but sometimes it is on the next-to-last Thursday.)

El Día de Acción de Gracias se celebra el segundo lunes de octubre en Canadá. (Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday of October in Canada.)

No es difícil prepara un pavo exquisito para celebrar el día con tus amigos y familiares. (It isn't difficult to prepare a delicious turkey for celebrating the day with your friends and family members.)

El tradicional desfile de Macys que se realiza en Nueva York. (The traditional Macy's parade takes place in New York.)

Después de la cena, vamos a ver un juego de fútbol americano. (After dinner, we'll watch a football game.)

Tenemos mucha gratitud por todo lo que tenemos. (We're grateful for everything we have.)

Key Takeaways

  • No Spanish-speaking country has a version of Thanksgiving, so native Spanish speakers in those countries may have little cultural context when dealing with Thanksgiving-related words.
  • When translating holiday-related words to Spanish, keep in mind that there may be only a partial correlation between meanings. For example, while a gravy is salsa in Spanish, salsa can refer to many other types of sauce as well.
  • The Spanish phrase for the holiday itself is a long one: Día de Acción de Gracias.
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Erichsen, Gerald. "Celebrating Thanksgiving in Spanish." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/common-thanksgiving-words-phrases-3079604. Erichsen, Gerald. (2020, August 27). Celebrating Thanksgiving in Spanish. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/common-thanksgiving-words-phrases-3079604 Erichsen, Gerald. "Celebrating Thanksgiving in Spanish." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/common-thanksgiving-words-phrases-3079604 (accessed March 29, 2023).