Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena searches old newspapers to learn more about some of the Thanksgiving traditions families enjoy this time of year.
Family history isn’t just about the gathering of our ancestors’ names, dates, places, and stories. Family history is also about recording our present-day lives, including our traditions, for the benefit of future generations. What traditions does your Thanksgiving Day include? Besides eating the Thanksgiving turkey what else does your family enjoy? Do you spend time cheering a favorite football team, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, or do you prefer to get a jump on your Christmas shopping?
Thanksgiving is a day of traditions, some long established and others unique to our individual families. Here are a few holiday traditions I learned more about by searching in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.
Obviously the main tradition for Thanksgiving is the feast. We collectively associate Thanksgiving with foods such as turkey, stuffing or dressing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. Looking for some traditional recipes? This article from a 1955 newspaper provides some tips about cooking the Thanksgiving turkey and two different types of stuffing, using bread or cornbread.
Now, you may be asking why we partake in these specific foods on Thanksgiving. Well the old newspapers have answers for this question. What I like about this 1936 version of Thanksgiving food history is that it addresses the fact that turkey may not have been an option for everyone’s holiday dinner because of expense – an important statement as people were in the midst of the Great Depression. The author writes that families may have substituted “chicken, duck, beef, rabbit, or even pork and were glad to get it.”
What other foods does your family have for Thanksgiving? What is the history of that recipe in your family?
Are you eagerly awaiting the deals that “Black Friday” brings? For some, online shopping has replaced the frenzied crowds associated with the number one shopping day of the year – but for some families, shopping on the Friday after Thanksgiving is a tradition. I had assumed that this November sale day was a more modern idea – but judging from this 1915 newspaper article, there was a push in the early 20th century to have shoppers begin their holiday shopping early so as to not overwhelm stores as the Christmas holidays approached. The article states:
It was started as a measure to bring relief to overworked employees in the shops. The call was not only to do Christmas shopping early and thus modify the heavy strain upon the shop workers, but throughout the year to do shopping early in the week, and early in the day, so that there might be no congested period later.
Publicity for this effort included newspaper articles, signs, and even slides shown at the motion picture theatres.
Focusing on one day of sales to overwhelm stores, as Black Friday does today, was certainly not the idea behind this original early-shopping campaign; there was a concentrated effort back then to make people think about when they shop and to consider doing their Holiday shopping in November.
The term Black Friday was in use by the 1960s, but the practice of holiday shopping on the Friday after Thanksgiving predates the phrase. This 1927 newspaper article announces that Christmas display windows would debut on Thanksgiving Day, and that sales would begin the next day. Shoppers were urged to get their shopping done early to avoid the hassles of the past:
In former years, when the public, through some peculiar psychological twist, felt that no Christmas shopping could be done until within a week [or] 10 days of the holiday, merchants were slow to put their complete lines of holidays [sic] wares on display. The buying public has forced it upon them.
For some families an impromptu game of football in the back yard or watching a game on the television is part of their Thanksgiving Day. If you are a football fan, you may not be too surprised to learn that football and Thanksgiving have been linked since the beginning of the sport. College and professional teams have played on Thanksgiving Day since the late 19th century.
One early mention of this tradition comes from the New York Herald, referring to Thanksgiving Day 1880 when the Princeton and Yale football teams would engage in “one of their stubborn old time contests.”
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
Love a parade? If you do, you might be a big fan of the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. The Macy’s parade in New York City debuted for Christmas 1924. That first parade, watched by 250,000 spectators, included costumed employees and floats. The success of that first effort ensured that the parade would become a yearly holiday tradition. It wasn’t until 1927 that the first balloon became part of the festivities. That balloon was cartoon character Felix the Cat.*
This 1940s description of the parade comes from Bobby Sutherland, whose writing appeared on the children’s page of the Richmond Times Dispatch. He describes the parade as starting:
at 110th Street and Broadway at 1 P.M. on Thanksgiving Day…The parade goes down to Central Park West and then south to Macys, which is at Thirty-fourth Street and Broadway. There’s always lots of bands and balloons. I’m told by some of the boys in my classes that it some times takes two hours for this parade to pass.
A 1959 newspaper article heralded the approximately 1.3 million people who watched the 33rd annual parade in person, and countless others who watched it broadcast on TV. That year, balloon figures included a turkey, a space man and Popeye.
It is estimated that the parade now attracts 3.5 million people to New York City each year.**
Your Thanksgiving Traditions
What are your family’s Thanksgiving traditions? Do you participate in some of the time-honored traditions that Thanksgiving is famous for, or do you do something different? Tell us about them in our comments section below.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!
* Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade – the History. NYC Tourist. http://www.nyctourist.com/macys_history1.htm
** Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade – the History. NYC Tourist. http://www.nyctourist.com/macys_history1.htm
Related Thanksgiving Articles:
- Old Fashioned Thanksgiving Recipes in the Newspaper
- Thanksgiving Traditions & Memories: My Grandmother’s Pies
- What’s Your Favorite Pumpkin Pie Recipe? Share It with Us!
- Thanksgiving Day; Tom Turkey Is a Member of Everyone’s Family
- George Washington Proclaimed a Day of Thanksgiving 26 November 1789
- Rationing Thanksgiving Dinner during World War I