Thanksgiving Traditions : How They Really Began

We Americans love our holiday traditions. Decorated trees on Christmas, egg hunts on Easter, and fireworks on July 4th all hold a special place in our hearts and our memories. How about Thanksgiving? Let’s look at some of the more enjoyable traditions of our turkey holiday.

Food, of course, is often the most treasured part of Thanksgiving. After all, the holiday came about as a remembrance of a harvest feast shared by the early European settlers and Native Americans in 1621.

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While the original feast most likely featured goose, we have since embraced a different fowl as our Thanksgiving main course. Turkey may have replaced the goose because it is cheaper and easier to raise, but others attribute its popularity to the fact that Abraham Lincoln loved turkey and asked that one be included in his holiday meal.

The idea of pairing the bird with cranberry sauce is thought to come from General Ulysses S. Grant, who ordered the sauce to be served to soldiers as part of their holiday meal in 1864.

While we’re on the topic of turkey, how about that uniquely American tradition of the Presidential turkey pardon? Opinion about which president started this tradition is split. While some folks believe it began with President Harry Truman, others believe it was President Abe Lincoln who conducted the first pardon at the request of his 11-year-old son, Tad.

Originally, only one bird was pardoned each year. However, after a turkey named Liberty escaped before President Reagan was able to pardon him, a second turkey was added to the tradition. Today, the public is invited to participate in the tradition by naming the turkeys on online polls.

Many U.S. towns and cities hold another of our American Thanksgiving traditions, the turkey trot. It may surprise you to know that this event was started way back in 1896 by six residents of Buffalo, New York. The tradition is now in its 124th year, making it the world’s oldest consecutive footrace. The turkey trot attracts over 14,000 runners of all ages and abilities every year.

Do you and your family enjoy watching the Thanksgiving parade? American retailer Macy’s has been staging the huge and rather spectacular parade in New York City since 1924. The parade attracts over 3.5 million spectators in person and an estimated 50 million television viewers. One interesting fact about the parade: while today it is comprised of giant floats, entertainers, and bands, the first parade actually featured animals from New York’s Central Park Zoo.

Any American knows that Thanksgiving isn’t really Thanksgiving without football. The holiday games were started by the American Intercollegiate Football Association in 1876 in hopes of improving interest in the new sport. The first Thanksgiving game was played between Yale and Princeton University and was extremely popular.

This tradition continued until 1934 when the college games were replaced by the NFL teams Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears. The Dallas Cowboys joined the tradition in 1966, and the two games, held back to back, have become a popular Thanksgiving tradition.

We Americans can be proud of our traditions and embrace them with the knowledge that they have stood the test of time. So, enjoy that turkey and raise a glass to the day that is the official beginning of our holiday season.