Thanksgiving traditions and why we do them

by Jacob Fuller

Trey Paul, FISM News 


Eating turkey and watching football might be the basic traditional things many of us do on Thanksgiving Day, but have you ever wondered what everyone else is doing all over the USA? Or even the world? And what about why they’re doing it?

Before the big meal is even served, many gather around to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade held in New York City. However, something much odder was going on before the parade became “a thing.”

The first parade took place in 1924 and was so popular it overshadowed Ragamuffin Day, an event that also took place on Thanksgiving. Children spent the day dressed as homeless beggars going door to door and asking for candy or money, a tradition that started in Europe. Weird, right?

Speaking of Europe, the closest thing to Thanksgiving that is observed there involves the celebration of the autumn harvests. In countries where German is spoken, the event is called Erntedankfest and is an all-day religious affair.

Before Thanksgiving became an official holiday in the United States, President George Washington issued a proclamation that Thursday, November 26, 1789, would be a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer.” Decades later, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared that the last Thursday of every November would be a day of Thanksgiving. The day wouldn’t officially become a national holiday until 1870.

In China, something that is somewhat similar to Thanksgiving is the Mid-Autumn Festival, which is celebrated around the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar. That’s the time of year when the moon is the fullest. The festival originated to celebrate the changing of the seasons and the fall harvest. Instead of pumpkin pie, the favorite Chinese dessert is moon cake which is made of sesame and ground lotus seeds and duck eggs.

If you’re wondering how pumpkin pie became a Thanksgiving staple in North America, many historians point to northeastern Native American tribes that grew pumpkins. They brought pumpkins as gifts to the first settlers and taught them about its uses. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a slice of the other popular pies that include sweet potato, pecan, and apple.

Luck brings us to another family tradition, which centers around breaking the turkey’s wishbone. Usually, Mom or Grandma will hand it off to the kids after letting it become dry and brittle. Two people each take one end of the bone, make a wish and pull. The person with the larger bone gets that wish granted, tradition states.

The bird is the word on Thanksgiving, but some really don’t like turkey all that much. According to the results of a recent survey conducted by The Vacationer, 29.1% of those surveyed said turkey is for the birds. The survey also found that 31.5% of Americans don’t like cranberry sauce, making it the most-hated Thanksgiving food choice among those who responded.

Following the big feast, taking a walk or playing football is sometimes on the agenda. Some run turkey trots, but taking a nap is by far the most popular and universally accepted after-meal tradition.

And probably the most important tradition celebrated on Thanksgiving Day is being thankful. That can be expressed in many different ways, with some choosing to help someone else in need. Many spend part of the day volunteering and serving food to the needy. Others figure out ways to thank and recognize our first responders who not only work but typically do even more work than usual on the holiday.

Even though the world is constantly changing, traditions keep us grounded. What’s even greater is that it’s never too late to start a new tradition.