Turkey Day Traditions


It’s hard to believe that it’s November already. When I was thinking about writing this month’s blog, I knew I wanted to write something about Thanksgiving and its history. We all know about the “First Thanksgiving Feast” so I will not bore you with that. There are so many other fun pieces of trivia and tradition that are associated with this holiday so that is what I am going to share. It’s not all related to Charleston so please forgive me if I stray a bit this month.

Before 1789, Thanksgiving was a day that was regionally observed. That year, President George Washington declared the first nationwide Thanksgiving for the New United States. This tradition continued until 1815 when it was phased out of fashion. It was not until 1863, when a “Mrs. Hale” convinced President Lincoln that a national Thanksgiving might help to unite a war-torn county. She had been writing letters to previous Presidents, all state governors and each member of Congress since 1847. President Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November to be the national holiday. Of course you can imagine how well this went over in the South. The Texas Governor, Oran Milo Roberts chose not to decree the holiday saying “it was a damned Yankee Institution.” By the late 1800’s Thanksgiving became popular in the South. Of course, we could notallow the Yankees to dictate the menu so we added our own touches: corn bread stuffing, sweet potatoes casserole, ham and pecan pie.

Thanksgiving was celebrated on the last Thursday of the month until 1939 when President Franklin Roosevelt moved the date to the 3rd Thursday because retailers persuaded him that having it that late would dampen their holiday sales. Announcements were placed in newspapers across the country with the date change. The new holiday was given the nickname “Franksgiving”. For 3 years people celebrated one or the other or both dates. Finally in 1941, President Roosevelt realized his mistake and signed a Congressional bill that stated that the 4thThursday would be the official holiday.

Thanksgiving Traditions:

Sports and Games: Have been enjoyed since the first Thanksgiving in 1621. Back then there would have been activities such “pitching the bar” which was tossing logs, wrestling matches and musket target shooting. It was not until 1876 when the first football game on Thanksgiving Day was played (Yale beat Princeton 2 goals to nil). In the 1890’s, the Collegiate League’s Championship game was held on Thanksgiving Day. It was a premier event in the New York social season and churches started making sure that their services were done in time so that their members could make it to kickoff. Professional football did not get into the action until 1934. The owner of the Detroit Lions (George Richards) arranged the game between the Lions and the Chicago Bears to be broadcasted on the radio across the country. Football was here to stay as a Thanksgiving tradition.

Parades:Began back in the 1780’s, Fantastical Companies which were lively groups of young working-class men from different New York neighborhoods would dress in flamboyant costumes and celebrate their day off from work. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade started in 1924 as the “Macy’s Christmas Parade.” Macy’s employees, many who were immigrants, created the parade in a European style which included costumes, animals, bands and floats. The first balloon was Felix the Cat and it made its début in 1927. The parade was first broadcast locally in the New York area in 1939 as an experiment and then on national television in 1948.

Pardoning the Turkey: President Harry Truman was the first to receive a live turkey and 2 dressed turkeys from the Turkey Federation. Too bad for the live turkey that year though because he did not get pardoned. It was not until 1989 when George H. W. Bush was President, that the live turkey was pardoned. The turkey to be pardoned goes through an extensive interview process. He is evaluated on size, plumage and poise. Starting in August, the turkey also undergoes 6 months of training. The bird is exposed to men in dark business suits so that when the big day arrives there will not be any mishaps.

That’s all for this month. I hope you have wonderful Thanksgiving.


Lee Ann

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