The Traditions of Thanksgiving
By Lynn Blamires Content Writer for My Local Utah
It is interesting that certain words trigger a sensory show that flashes across a stage in our minds. Images, memories, emotions, and even aromas over all the years come together almost at once and then they play out more slowly as you dwell on them individually. Take Thanksgiving for example, in my life it has been a time of gathering family and friends and sharing a Thanksgiving meal.
The Thanksgiving Feast
This event is drenched in traditions. The menu for the Thanksgiving feast, while different for every family, has to be complete. There has to be turkey, or maybe not. My mom didn’t like turkey so our traditional feast centered on ham. The feast did not have turkey until I married into my wife’s family.
Adding New Traditions
It is very interesting to me how traditions develop and change. One year my wife’s sister brought a spinach salad to the feast. Everybody loved it and it was added to the traditional feast. Now the meal is not complete without it.
Our traditional stuffing recipe changed when marriage brought a new person into the family. We always enjoyed a boxed stuffing with our meal. The new person joined us in our feast and asked, “What is this?” We politely explained that it was a savory dressing and that it was what we always had. Nothing further was said, but the next year she said, “I will be doing the stuffing for this Thanksgiving.” We had no idea that it was supposed to contain sausage. A new tradition was born that year.
Sticking with Old Traditions
My mother-in-law included a cheese ball that was set out to be enjoyed as our family gathered for the feast. I love cheese balls and know how to make them. My cheese balls were well received in other circles, but it wasn’t my mother-in-law’s cheese ball, so it didn’t become a tradition.
Thanksgiving desert is all about pies. Pumpkin, pecan, and apple – the list goes on, everybody has a favorite. In my family, a pineapple pie was traditional.
Traditions are an important part of our family histories and even our countries history. As with all traditions, each one has a start. The histories of traditions are fascinating.
The first Thanksgiving
The holiday feast dates back to November 1621, when the newly arrived Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians gathered at Plymouth for an autumn harvest celebration, an event regarded as America’s “first Thanksgiving.”
The First Thanksgiving Menu
This Thanksgiving feast would have had some sort of fowl like duck or goose, and venison which Indians provided. Some say wild turkeys were prevalent in the region while others say it was not a part of the first feast. Local vegetables that included onions, beans, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, carrots and perhaps peas were included.
Corn, which records show was plentiful at the first harvest, might also have been served, but not in the way most people enjoy it now. In those days, the corn would have been removed from the cob and turned into cornmeal, which was then boiled and pounded into a thick corn mush or porridge that was occasionally sweetened with molasses.
Fruits indigenous to the region included blueberries, plums, grapes, gooseberries, raspberries, and cranberries. Seafood was also included. Living on the coast, mussels were easy to harvest clinging to rocks near the shore. Lobster, bass, clams and oysters might also have been part of the feast. Pies were absent because sugar stores had been depleted. Potatoes, on the other hand, had not made their way to the American Continent.
The first Thanksgiving Guest List
The Wampanoag Indians outnumbered the pilgrims by almost two to one. They were represented by their famous Chief Massasoit and 90 men. The preceding winter had been a harsh one for the colonists, seventy-eight percent of the women who had traveled on the Mayflower perished that winter. According to eyewitness accounts, among the pilgrims, there were 22 men, just four women and over 25 children and teenagers.
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is now among the most famous holiday traditions. This particular parade is known for its giant inflatable balloons that float between the skyscrapers.
The first parade occurred in 1921 and consisted of Macey’s employees dressed as clowns, cowboys, and other characters. They traveled with animals from the Central Park Zoo including elephants. The parade route was six miles long and saw 250,000 people lining the streets.
Giant balloons were introduced in 1927, with Felix the Cat. Without a plan to deflate the balloon after the parade, they simply let him fly away. He popped soon after, but nothing was said about where it landed.
Today’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade features over a dozen giant balloons, nearly 30 parade floats, 1,500 dancers and cheerleaders, more than 750 clowns, several marching bands from around the country with over 8,000 participants in all. While the parade route has been shortened, it is attended by at least 3.5 million people every year.
The Thanksgiving Football Game
Football is the most popular sport to watch in the US and the idea of games played on Thanksgiving Day actually dates back as early as 1876. Modern day football as a Thanksgiving Day tradition with the NFL goes back to 1934, when the Detroit Lions decided to play against the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving Day.
Families and friends gather around to watch their favorite teams compete. Some families split into teams and play a game of football themselves.
Breaking the Wishbone
It may sound silly, but this is a real thing! After carving the turkey, the wishbone, a Y-shaped bone that carries much superstition, gets set aside to dry. Once the meal is over, two people make their wishes and break the wishbone. Whoever ends up with the bigger piece is said to have their wish come true and good luck for the upcoming year.
The Thanksgiving Nap
After the feast and celebrations are over comes a favorite tradition – the Thanksgiving nap. Whether it is the big meal, the huge gathering, or the work of preparation, things quite down, a comfortable place is found, the eyes close, and the rest is history.
The Blessings of Thanksgiving
I love Thanksgiving not only the time with family, but for the opportunity to stop and count my blessings. In my family, gratitude is a big part of our Thanksgiving. When the family gathers, all should be right with the world, even though sometimes it is lightning and thunder. Make your Thanksgiving a time of giving thanks.