Turkey, parades, football games, favorite side dishes – Thanksgiving Day is an American celebration rich in tradition. A few date back decades while others are being added to the mix each year. How did some of the most popular traditions originate? The stories behind your favorites may surprise you.
What may not surprise you is many of these time-honored events have roots in marketing.
We’ll explore seven common Thanksgiving traditions to find out how they originated.
1. Parades – The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade may be the most familiar parade on Turkey Day because of movies such as “Miracle on 34th Street” and national TV coverage on NBC every year. It started in 1924 and has the longest-running consistent sponsor. The oldest parade, however, is Philadelphia’s, which began in 1920. It was originally sponsored by Macy’s rival department store Gimbel’s, but since the company closed in 1986, it has had multiple sponsors. It’s now known as the 6abc Dunkin’ Donuts Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Associating department stores with the official kickoff of the holiday buying season seems an ideal marketing match, a fact not lost on the originators of these parades. To this day, Macy’s employees can participate in the parade if they wish.
2. Football – Speaking of kickoffs, professional football has been a tradition on Thanksgiving Day since 1920. One city coincidentally hosts two of these long-running events. One of the oldest parades, America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, is in Detroit and it started the same year as Macy’s. Also, the Detroit Lions are one of two NFL teams that has played every Thanksgiving Day game since 1934. The Dallas Cowboys are the other team that always plays on Thanksgiving. Not to be left out, NBC has instituted a nightly game (as part of its “Thursday Night Football” schedule) and those teams vary year to year.
3. Presidential Turkey Pardon – This tradition is surrounded by a lot of conflicting mythology. Originally, it began as far back as 1863 with Abraham Lincoln sparing a turkey his son Tad had become attached to and keeping it as a pet. The correlation between presidents and turkeys continued throughout the 20th century, with many poultry sellers and lobbyists presenting the president with turkeys to eat. This retelling credits John F. Kennedy with the first official pardon by saying, “Let’s keep him going,” after being given a turkey by the Poultry and Egg Board. Now, two birds are selected each year and the White House has a naming contest for them.
4. Green Bean Casserole – The ubiquitous side dish has recently had a bit of resurgence in the media because its creator Dorcas Reilly recently passed away at the age of 92. Reilly was a supervisor in the Campbell’s Soup test kitchen in 1955 when she came up with the recipe. To this day, it is the most popular item ever created by the company’s corporate kitchen and is still featured on soup can labels and TV commercials. The original recipe card joined the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2002, and the outlet reports the online version got 2.7 million views during the 2017 holiday season.
5. Black Friday – This is another tradition with roots in Philadelphia surrounded by mythology. The most common belief is that the “black” is symbolic of the high revenues which bring retailers’ ledgers into the “black.” (Before spreadsheets, when financial ledgers were handwritten, black ink recorded profits while red recorded debt or losses. So “in the black” meant you were making money.) This explanation fits current usage more than how it originated. It was coined by Philadelphia police, who had to work the days after Thanksgiving when shoppers from the suburbs would flood the city, overwhelming services and resulting in 12-hour shifts for the police. Because of the long hours and hectic crowds, they began referring to the day as “Black Friday.”
6. Cyber Monday – Way back in 2005, when the internet began to hit its high-speed stride, marketing analysts realized online shopping was spiking the Monday after Thanksgiving. In a press release from Shop.org, the term “Cyber Monday” was coined as an alternative to the at times perilous experience of Black Friday shopping. Why get up at the crack of dawn to compete with the masses when you could get the same deals from the comfort of your own home? It’s also a great option for finding items in stock that had already flown off the shelves of retail outlets or for those times you need a day or two to consider a purchase. Sales in 2017 were a record $6.59 billion, more than twice what they were two years previous, in 2015. More than 25 countries around the world now use the term Cyber Monday.
However you celebrate, nothing beats the comfort of home for the holidays. If you’re ready to find a new one and enjoy your own traditions, a home loan from New American Funding might help it happen sooner than you think.