New American Funding Blog

The Origin of Our Thanksgiving Traditions

By Susan   |  November 16, 2011

What comes to mind when you think about Thanksgiving? The likely candidates are: turkey, cranberry sauce, family/friends and football. So when did these things become staples in our Thanksgiving holiday traditions? Let’s take a look at the first Thanksgiving to find out what our modern day celebration and the one of old actually have in common. There is a lot of speculation about the first Thanksgiving in regards to what food was present, what the celebration was about and so on. It’s time to debunk those Thanksgiving myths and find out how the holiday we know and love came to be what it is today.

Let’s first talk about the most important element of any Thanksgiving celebration: the food! The basic meal we think of today is not the same as what the pilgrims and Indians enjoyed on the first Thanksgiving. First, imagine eating your Thanksgiving Day meal without a fork.Forks had not been invented at the time of the first Thanksgiving so I’m guessing they used their hands mostly. I mean think about turkey in a spoon…weird. But wait, there is no hard evidence that they even had turkey as their main course. Deer was the meat of choice back in 1621. Turkey didn’t become associated with Thanksgiving until later due to an excess of wild turkey roaming around New England; turkey also fed a lot of people. The other food items that have become an integral part of our holiday meal were not on the table at the first Thanksgiving: there were cranberries, hold the sauce (sugar was pricey and hard to come by) and pumpkin pie was made popular at the second celebration of Thanksgiving in 1623.

Which brings us to the next revelation, the first feast was not repeated, so the pilgrims did not intend to start a tradition. The original feast was actually 3 days long and was not about family. It was a multicultural event centered on the harvest. Thanksgiving did not become an official holiday until Lincoln made it so in 1863; prior to that it was only a holiday if the president felt like making it a holiday. Now we see it as a perfect time to get together with old friends, this is illustrated by the fact that - the night before Thanksgiving is the single biggest day for bar sales in the U.S!

So did the pilgrims play football on the first Thanksgiving? Not entirely sure, but most likely no. The Detroit Lions are the reason that Thanksgiving is synonymous with football, at least in some people’s minds. In 1934, in an effort to gain more of a fan base the owner scheduled a game on Thanksgiving, and thus began the tradition of football on turkey day. I think he did something right!

After you have eaten your weight in turkey and stuffing, and have watched and played your football games, it’s time for the big shopping trip on Black Friday. 5 am wake-up call anyone? Now when did people start getting up at the crack of dawn to get the perfect presents for their family and friends? Black Friday, as you may have guessed, was created by department stores. The term originated in Philadelphia in the 1960s, and it refers to stores selling so much that their sales are out of the red and into the black for the rest of the year. Ambitious!

There you have it, the real deal about our Thanksgiving traditions!

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