TR Robertson – Another Thanksgiving will soon be upon us complete with all the festivities and traditions that have been associated with this holiday. In researching Thanksgiving traditions, you must start with what many believe to be the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth Rock in 1621. History says that 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims, celebrated a religious observance centered around a successful harvest and peace between these two groups. It is said Squanto, chief of the Wampanoag tribe brought eel and possibly corn to the meal. This festival went on for 3 days. The actual date of the event is not known other than it took place sometime between September and November. The actual meal was not recorded, but it is believed that deer, duck, goose, clams, eel, mussels, fish, and some vegetables like corn would have been served. There were wild turkeys in the area so there might have been a turkey included, just not the one you commonly see in the stores.
Some historians feel that the first Thanksgiving can go back farther than 1621. There are records to indicate that Spanish explorer Juan de Onate celebrated a “Thanksgiving” meal of fish and wild game, in 1598, after a trying expedition through the deserts of Mexico ending up on the other side of the Rio Grande River in what is now Texas. We do know that President George Washington, in 1789, declared a National celebration of Thanksgiving. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving as an official holiday and specified the date as the last Thursday in November and it is said he also spared a turkey named Jack from being butchered for the Thanksgiving meal. Since 1947 the National Turkey Federation has gifted a live turkey and 2 butchered turkeys to the White House. In 1989, President George H.W. Bush began the first official pardon of a turkey on Thanksgiving Day.
One tradition many Americans take part in is watching the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on T.V., or in person in New York City. This parade has been going on since 1924. The first parade used live animals in the parade. In 1927, the first floats appear along with the first balloon, Felix the Cat. Mickey Mouse would not appear as a balloon until 1934. The 90th Macy’s parade will feature 27 large balloons, including Felix the Cat. Another tradition many will take part in is sitting in front of their T.V. watching a professional football game. The first pro game held on Thanksgiving Day was in 1934 between the Detroit Lions and the Chicago Bears. They have played on Thanksgiving ever since, only missing playing during several years of World War II. In 1966 the Dallas Cowboys began playing on Thanksgiving Day. Today, not only are there professional football games played, but professional NBA basketball games and several college football games. There is no shortage of sports to watch on TV or to fall asleep watching after or before you eat.
What most people remember about Thanksgiving is the food served on this day. Americans will eat more food on Thanksgiving Day than on any other day of the year. There are many magazines and newspapers running recipes featuring ways to prepare the turkey, best ways to serve dressing or potatoes, what vegetables to have with the meal, best desserts to serve and the list goes on. Most families will serve turkey, some will also serve ham or prime rib as well. Forty-five million turkeys will be sold for Thanksgiving. One new meat that appeared some years back is turducken, a duck stuffed inside a turkey. Frying the turkey in peanut oil also became popular some years ago. One family did not like turkey or the other meat choices, so they served chicken fried steak on Thanksgiving. It should be noted that the myth of falling asleep due to the Tryptophan in the turkey is just that, a myth. Tryptophan is also found in poultry, meat, cheese, yogurt, fish, eggs, and milk. The reason folks fall asleep after the meal is due to over-indulging, stuffing yourself to the point of being uncomfortable coupled with the activities of the day and you get tired and fall asleep.
The traditional side dishes included with the Thanksgiving meal are sweet corn, peas, squash, green bean casserole with fried onions on top, sweet potatoes or yams, dressing, mashed potatoes, veggies for appetizers, Jell-O (usually red), cranberry sauce or relish, rolls or cornbread and of course turkey gravy. Some families will offer pumpkin soup instead of a salad to go along with the meal. Families across the country have favorite ways of making these selections. My mother-in-law used to make oyster dressing, not my favorite. I like my yams with walnuts, brown sugar and a few marshmallows and I like my cranberry sauce solid. For me, the dressing must be cornbread, not light bread and the mashed potatoes cannot have any lumps in them. I also like it when my wife fixes a Waldorf salad, apples with walnuts, celery, and mayonnaise. This was first served at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City in 1896. She also makes a delicious cranberry relish, even though I prefer.
Dessert is also a special part of Thanksgiving Day. Pies comprise a large part of what families will serve. The selections most often offered are pumpkin, apple, caramel-apple, pecan, and sweet potato pie. Pumpkin and Pecan pie recipes began to appear in the early 1900’s in the United States. You will always find whipped cream or Cook Whip offered as well. Also generally offered to snack on at this time of year is chocolate bark. This comes in peppermint, Nutella, white or chocolate flavors. Shortbread cookies will also be found at the dessert table.
Other Thanksgiving holiday traditions many will take part in include a Thanksgiving pie breakfast – usually pumpkin or pecan – instead of a “normal” breakfast. Many will take a Thanksgiving morning walk to start the day or a Thanksgiving walk after the meal to end the day. Many get more energetic and take part in runs like the Turkey-Trot. Some families have started a Circle of Love before the meal, remembering those that have passed away. Another tradition many have started is using butcher paper for a tablecloth, giving people markers, and telling them to write down why they are thankful. Usually, each family’s meal has someone who gives a toast to begin the meal and/or a prayer. To get kids involved, some families have the kids serve dessert as their part of helping. Lots of families will be calling family members not in attendance, during the meal or even doing Facetime so those in attendance can see the person online.
Pulling the wishbone is a special moment for some families. The wishbone is called the furcular and the person getting the bigger piece are said to get their secret wish granted. Some traditional TV shows many will watch are “Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving Special” and “Miracle on 34th Street”. There are many food drives some will take part in as well as assisting at different shelters or organizations Thanksgiving meals. In the state of Delaware there is an annual pumpkin chunking contest.
The Thanksgiving Holidays are also one of the busiest travel days of the year. In a recent study, San Diego was ranked as the 3rd most visited city on Thanksgiving. The whole Thanksgiving weekend has evolved into a major series of shopping days. The Friday after Thanksgiving is now referred to as Black Friday with incredible sales offered and stores opening at earlier times. Saturday is called Small Business Saturday, supporting local businesses. Monday is called Cyber Monday with shoppers encouraged to shop online and different sites offering specials such as no shipping charges on that day. Tuesday is referred to as Giving Tuesday with citizens asked to assist different organizations in their community.
Regardless of how you spend Thanksgiving, what you eat on Thanksgiving, what traditions your family has, what you watch on TV, have a Happy, Safe and Enjoyable Thanksgiving from our family to yours.