The Origins Of Five Popular Thanksgiving Traditions

Source: Dogon News

Few American holidays are as anticipated as Thanksgiving. Observed annually on the last Thursday of November, the secular holiday, which marks the start of the festive season, is credited to a harvest feast shared by the early European settlers, or Pilgrims, and Native Americans in 1621. Though food remains the centerpiece of the celebration, many fun traditions have been added since. Here are some fun Thanksgiving tradition facts to share with family and friends as you enjoy the delicious meal on November 28, 2019.

Turkey and cranberry sauce

Turkey is usually the bird of choice on Thanksgiving (Credit:

While the Native Americans and Pilgrims are believed to have feasted on geese, lobster, cod, and deer, present-day Thanksgiving dinners primarily feature turkey. Some experts believe the birds were selected because they were cheaper than geese or chickens, and easier to raise. Others attribute the tradition to a mention of the bird in a letter describing the first Thanksgiving by Pilgrim Edward Winslow. The bird was also suggested by Sarah Josepha Hale in her petitions to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. Since President Abraham Lincoln loved roasted turkey, he happily included the bird on his Thanksgiving menu. The idea of pairing the bird with cranberry sauce is believed to be the brainchild of Civil War Union General Ulysses S. Grant who ordered the condiment be served to soldiers as part of their holiday meal in 1864.

Turkey Trots

Turkey Trots are a popular Thanksgiving tradition in US cities and towns (Credit:

Many Americans build up their appetites for the upcoming holiday feast by participating in their town or city’s brisk morning runs, or “Turkey Trots.” The fun tradition was started in 1896 by six residents of Buffalo, New York. Now in its 124th year, it is the world’s oldest consecutive footrace attracting over 14,000 runners of all ages and abilities every year.

Thanksgiving parades

The Plymouth, MA Thanksgiving Parade brings to life America’s history from the 17th through the 21st centuries (Credit:

American retailer Macy’s has been staging an elaborate Thanksgiving parade along Manhattan’s 77th Street and Central Park West since 1924. Though the popular event, which attracts over 3.5 million people in person and an estimated 50 million television viewers, now comprises giant floats, the first parade featured animals from New York’s Central Park Zoo.

America’s Hometown Thanksgiving Celebration in Plymouth, Massachusetts is also popular. Now in its 20th year, the parade begins with a military flyover and continues with floats and costumed people that take viewers on a historically accurate journey from the 17th century to the present time. This year’s special floats will include one to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day — the June 6, 1944 landing of the Allied Forces, a large percentage of them from the U.S., on the beaches of Normandy, France, to fight Nazi German soldiers during World War II. There will also be a float celebrating the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s July 20, 1969, moon landing.

The Presidential turkey pardon

President Harry Truman pardoning a Thanksgiving turkey on November 16, 1949 (Credit:

Every year, two lucky turkeys escape the Thanksgiving table due to a special pardoning granted by the US president. Though some credit the fun tradition to President Harry Truman, others believe it was President Abraham Lincoln who conducted the first pardon at the request of his 11-year-old son, Tad. Though the original release included just one bird, a “spare” was added in 1981, after a turkey named Liberty escaped before President Ronald Reagan was able to grant his pardon. In recent years, the public has been able to participate in the event by helping name the turkeys on online polls. This has resulted in some innovative monikers like Mac and Cheese, and Biscuit and Gravy!


The Thanksgiving football tradition was started by the IFA in 1876 (Credit: domain)

Thanksgiving football games were started by the American Intercollegiate Football Association (IFA) in 1876 to try to increase the popularity of the still-nascent sport. The first holiday game, played between Yale and Princeton University, was such a success that Thanksgiving became the date of choice for the annual IFA Championships. In 1934, after the IFA abandoned the tradition, the National Football League’s (NFL) Detroit Lions seized the opportunity to try to attract more local fans to live games. The inaugural match, against the undefeated Chicago Bears, was sold out two weeks before the event, and hundreds of football fans had to be turned away from the gates. Since then, except for a short hiatus from 1939-1944, the team has played on every Thanksgiving day! The Dallas Cowboys joined the tradition in 1966, and the two games, held back to back, have become a popular holiday ritual since.

If you know of the history of a fun Thanksgiving tradition, be sure to share it with us by writing your comments below.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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