Thanksgiving traditions


Thanksgiving brings along with it some entertaining — and delicious — annual traditions. But how much do you really know about where these customs come from?

From cranberry sauce and turkey to parades andthe annual foods and activities millions of Americans partake in each year vary in the depths of their historical roots, but each has a background worth exploring.

Why Turkey?


Turkey is a fixture at most Americans’ Thanksgiving tables, but where, exactly, did this tradition originate?

A definitive history is difficult to pin down, but many historians believe the bird didn’t enjoy a place at the original Thanksgiving feast between the Pilgrims and Native Americans back in 1621.


While poultry of some sort may have been served, turkey was not mentioned in historical accounts of the meal between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians. Venison, though, was on the menu, along with other foods of the day.

The Oregonian noted that, while we can’t be sure of when the turkey came into the mix, there is one key figure who advocated for the bird to be served on Thanksgiving — Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879).

Not only did Hale, a well-known writer (she penned “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” among other works), urge families to adopt certain foods like turkey, but she was also the driving force behind pushing the U.S. government to adopt Thanksgiving as an official holiday.

In 1863, Abraham Lincoln obliged — and here we are today.


Where Did the Cranberry Sauce Originate?

Whether or not you love cranberry sauce or hate it, it doesn’t matter because it’s now a tradition. Pilgrims likely weren’t devouring the commodity.

It’s unclear when the sauce was even created but people began commenting about a sweet sauce that was made from cranberries in 1663.

But if you’re thinking about modern-day canned cranberry, that’s actually brought to you by Ocean Spray, a company that began selling the product in the early 1900s.

It’s unclear when, definitively speaking, cranberries officially became a Thanksgiving meal fixture, however The New Jersey Star-Ledger reported that, “Cranberries officially became a part of the national Thanksgiving tradition in 1864, when Gen. Ulysses S. Grant ordered cranberries be served to soldiers as part of their holiday meal.” Whether it was widely used before that remains a mystery.

Cracking the Wishbone


The wishbone is often taken from the turkey’s carcass and dried out.  My brother and I

One of the odder traditions for many families is the debate over who gets to crack the Thanksgiving Day turkey’s wishbone (also known as a furcula).

My brother and I fought over the cracking of it and so did my boys.  It’s definitely a family tradition.  The participants wished for something as they cracked it apart.  I’ve learned that the wishbone has alleged powers which is a belief that dates back to Medieval Europe.

The Macy’s Parade

I have always wanted to see the Macy’s Parade from Central Avenue instead I have to tune into the television. Watching the “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade” is an annual tradition. While most American’s tune in on television, millions even flock to the streets in New York City each year to see the giant floats in person.

The parade started 87 years ago and has been a staple of the Thanksgiving holiday ever since. It was in 1924 that the parade, originally called the “Macy’s Christmas Parade” and started by company employees, first kicked off.

Rather than using giant floats, live animals from Central Park Zoo were marched through New York City’s streets, a Macy’s history timeline recounts. By 1927, Macy’s was already using floats.

The event became so popular that the company decided to make it an annual tradition. But when war struck in 1942, the parade was put on a hiatus until 1944 due to a national helium shortage. The balloons were donated to the U.S. government at the time to offer up scrap rubber.

When WWII ended, though, the tradition simply grew in popularity, with Macy’s claiming that up to 3.5 million people now arrive in person to see the floats each year, with an additional 50 million watching on their television screens.

I thought it’d be interesting to find out the facts behind the traditions.  I love history, which is why I write A First Ladies Mystery series.  To learn more about me and my books you can look at my website: Barb’s Books or my blog: A First Lady Blog

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18 thoughts on “Thanksgiving traditions

  1. Very interesting post, Barbara. It’s funny how we really don’t think about the history of traditions because they’ve been handed down through time and we just take them for granted. I enjoyed finding out where they came from. Thanks!


  2. Interesting, it’s true, we enjoy traditions without knowing where they came from. I figured wild turkeys were on the first menu, but apparently not! Thanks for the enlightenment! Interesting how traditions form, often because of marketing companies!


  3. That was great! Most of that history was new to me, Barb, with the exception of pulling a wishbone. When I was growing up in the 1950s, in Glasgow, it was fairly common for people to have a roasted chicken for Christmas Day dinner, instead of turkey, if the meal was to serve a small family group. At that time chicken wasn’t factory farmed and it was quite expensive to buy a whole chicken (free range). My family did the drying the wishbone and doing the wishes as well. It was more like the early 1960s before turkey was bought as a festive meal.


  4. Lots of interesting trivial. And a fun read to boot. And why do we say ‘to boot’? Back to the Thanksgiving trivial stuff. When I was a kid, I was fascinated by the Macy parade’s huge balloons. Mom and grandma made a cranberry jello. Not bad, I have to say. You’re have to do a post on why so many people have ham at Christmas instead of turkey.


  5. Fun post, Barb. I think it was here where someone posted that Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey as the US national emblem rather than the bald eagle. That would have made Thanksgiving interesting, I bet! I rarely watch the Macy’s parade although this year I did end up watching a bit and found myself enjoying the live performances of De La Soul and Fitz and the Tantrums.


  6. Love all of it Barb. I’m a holiday person, and I love cranberry sauce. My son and I are the only ones in our family. I love the parade. I always wanted to be a Rocket so I enjoyed their performance.


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