The History Behind Some Of Our Favorite Thanksgiving Traditions


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Tomorrow, November 26th is Thanksgiving, one of the most popular holidays on the American calendar. Celebrated on the last Thursday of every November, the day commemorates the 1621 harvest reaped by the Plymouth Colony after a harsh winter. While food and family remain at the forefront of the celebrations, several new traditions have been introduced over the years. How did all these fun rituals begin? Read on . . .

How turkeys became a Thanksgiving staple

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Since there were plenty of wild turkeys in 1621, it makes sense to assume that the birds were featured in the original feast. However, according to historians, this was not the case. They say that the poultry mentioned in the meal enjoyed by the Pilgrims and North Americans was most likely duck or goose.

Though nobody knows for sure how turkeys became the bird of choice, there are some theories. Some believe it was because they were cheaper than geese and chickens and also easier to raise. Others think it is all to do with Sarah Josepha Hala. The American writer who is considered the driving force behind convincing the U.S. government to declare Thanksgiving an official holiday also urged families to adopt certain foods like turkey. In 1863, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, who loved roasted turkey agreed to both her requests and the rest, as they say, is history.

Cranberry sauce

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Given that sugar was a rare luxury back in 1621, it is unlikely that cranberry sauce as we know it today, was part of the first Thanksgiving meal. The first record of this tasty condiment can be traced to 1663 when visitors to the Plymouth area mentioned a sweet sauce made of cranberries to accompany the meat. However, many believe that it did not officially become a Thanksgiving tradition until 1864 when General Ulysses Grant asked that cranberries be served to soldiers as part of their holiday meal.

Cracking wishbones

Photo Credit: Clyde Robinson/Flickr Creative Commons

For many Americans, snapping the turkey's wishbone in half is a Thanksgiving must. It is believed that the person that gets the larger piece will have his/her secret wish fulfilled. This fun ritual is thought to have been passed on to us by the Etruscans, an ancient Italian civilization. While they are believed to have used chicken or geese wishbones, we, of course, have resorted to turkeys!

Macy's Thanksgiving Parade

Photo Credit: By Jon Harder CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

No Thanksgiving celebration would be complete without the Macy's Parade. Started by the department store employees in 1924, the first parade featured live animals from New York's Central Park Zoo. While the animals have since been replaced with giant floats, the parade's popularity has never waned. Today, an estimated 3.5 million people gather along Manhattan's 77th Street and Central Park West to watch the procession live while another 50 million view it from the comfort of their homes.

And Finally . . . Football!

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Though Americans don't need an excuse to watch football, doing it with family and friends while noshing on delicious food makes this an extra special Thanksgiving tradition. Surprisingly, it was not the National Football League (NFL), but the American Intercollegiate Football Association (IFA) that came up with the idea. The first Thanksgiving game was played between Yale and Princeton in 1876 when it was still evolving from a rugby hybrid to the football we love today. It was such a success that it became the traditional date for the IFA Championship game.

It was only when that tradition subsided that the NFL teams jumped in. The Detroit Lions took the lead in 1934 to try to attract more locals to their games. It was an enormous success. The inaugural game against the undefeated Chicago Bears was sold out two weeks before the event, and many fans had to be turned away from the gates. Ever since then, except for a short break from 1939-1944, the team has played every year! The Dallas Cowboys joined the tradition in 1966, and the two teams now attract millions of viewers every Thanksgiving.

This Thanksgiving, the DOGOnews team is grateful for our awesome audience who inspire us to do better every single day. What are you grateful for? Be sure to let us know by adding your comments below.

Have a Happy and Safe Thanksgiving!


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