America is full of unique traditions, some might even say weird and Thanksgiving is no exception. Here in America we pride ourselves on individuality and are certainly creative. I mean heck, Thanksgiving itself is 100% Made in the USA!
Over the years we’ve changed just about everything about the holiday and it’s almost unrecognizable to what it looks like in its original form. Behold a bunch of traditions we associate with Thanksgiving today that has pretty much nothing to do with the holiday’s original purpose.
Weird. Odds. and Things that make you go Hmmmmm…..
OK so turkey has always been a staple of the Thanksgiving holiday but these days here in America we apparently do much more than simply give thanks and then eat it.
In Indianapolis, IN, people have started an annual tradition of dressing their turkey in a baby onesie, dousing it in lighter fluid, attaching it to a long chain, lighting it on fire, and throwing it across the length of a football field. This tradition was basically started by a bunch of dudes who wanted to see a flaming turkey streak through the night sky, and now, it’s an annual thing. I couldn’t have phrased this any better than how earlier did so consider this a copy and paste.
Turkey tosses happen elsewhere but I have to say, this is by far the most uh, colorful? lit? All the things! There are even styles…highland, complete with kilts. I’m horrified and obsessed and 100% going to make to one of these.
Frozen Turkey Bowling
Picture it. An oiled up frozen turkey being hurled down a grocery store isle at 10 plastic bottles of soda pop. Only in America folks. It’s original and odd and ALL OURS! Usually these events are linked to fundraising for excellent causes so judge here. Well maybe a little…still gonna do it though. And then post an IG.
Pardoning a Turkey
The story goes Lincoln pardoned a turkey for his son Tad in 1863…. FACT CHECK…that wasn’t a Thanksgiving turkey and it was more of a father/son moment at Christmas rather than let’s start a tradition. But in 1947, a weird tradition known as the National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation was founded under the Truman administration. He did pardon a turkey but evidence suggests the family eats the turkey anyhow.
Ronald Reagan was actually the first present to formally “pardon” one of the turkeys given to him….and you know, don’t eat it. And then in 1989 George Bush Sr. officially began this pardon as a Thanksgiving tradition with the very Presidential words ‘not this guy’.
When Holidays Collide
In the 19th century, there was a curious Halloween-ish tradition where both adults and kids would dress up on Thanksgiving in masks, hence the name, ‘masking’. Some folks take it to new levels with cross dressing or imitating political figures. All hand made, this short lived Thanksgiving tradition evolved/devolved int Ragamuffin Day.
Stemming from Masking traditions, in the early 20th century, children (mostly) used to dress in rags on Thanksgiving, take to the streets going door to door, begging, “Anything for Thanksgiving?” Usually they were given a piece of candy, a penny, or sometimes an apple. A lot of folks didn’t care for this unsightly business in the streets and in 1924, Macy & Co. officially put an end to this Thanksgiving tradition…more on that later.
Christmas Officially Begins
Depending on religious and cultural upbringing, Christmas could start the day after Halloween, the day after Thanksgiving, or if you’re in This Family, it officially begins when Santa arrives at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I’m 10000% sure our ancestors who fled religious persecution, survived near genocide, fought for religious freedom and survived a great many disasters just look at us in disbelief with the silliness of how excited we got for this but then again, maybe with all they went through, they looked down and smiled knowing they paved the way for such a happy occasion.
Mad Dash Traditions
Oh we’ve all heard the stories of injury and worse as people scramble to full on fisticuffs to get that perfect present for Christmas. The name actually came from a financial crisis circa 1869 when the gold market crashed and all happened free for free. How it is translated to shopping is basically a marketing thing. Stores traditionally start operating ‘in the black’ in this time period.
Sometimes it involves adults in turkey suits, sometimes it’s just an athletic event that happens on Thanksgiving weekend. Turkey trots are usually 5K runs. Personally I think turkey suits should be mandatory.
Thanksgiving Fun Facts
Smashing Good Time
Pie in the face
Near as I can tell, Thomas ‘Doc’ Kelly incorporated this gag into his medicine show in 1889 as just a silly thing to make folks laugh. It appears in 1909 in a short film ‘Mr. Flip’ and it got big notoriety in 1913 when actress Mabel Normand (America’s first Queen of Comedy) got a pie in the face from Fatty Arbuckle. The Keystone Cops started doing it and apparently then, so many Americans did. So I guess, it you don’t like eating it, you can smash it on someone’s face in the name of tradition.
Pumpkin Smash contest
This Thanksgiving tradition is both weird and adorable. On Thanksgiving or right after, folks seem to like to destroy pumpkins left over from Halloween and Thanksgiving. This can involve baseball bats, catapults or just chucking a pumpkin. Sometimes this is a friendly little backyard event and sometimes it’s a full on community wide planned event complete with prizes.
Up Your Pumpkin Baking Game
Make a Wish, Play Ball, and Get Yer Kids off the Street
Cracking the wishbone
So this tradition dates back to, well I don’t know what, bet it came from Italians. Etruscans to be exact. Something about this bone harbored divine powers when you rubbed it like a lamp and wished on it. Some where along the way there was a run on the availability for the bones so they started breaking them in half which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me but OK. The person with the bigger half, got the wish granted.
The tradition came to England in the 16th century when Romans went all over Europe… The English renamed the tradition ‘Merry Thought’
The English brought the Tradition to America, specifically the Massachusetts area in the early colonial settlements where there was a plethora of turkeys!
Fast forward to us and we make a big deal of drying the wish bone and making a contest who gets the wish granted! Progress.
So Yale and Princeton first played football on Thanksgiving in 1876 when football was still kind of a rugby game. Then Michigan and Chicago started doing it.
Then about the turn of the century, the professional football leagues figured out this was a great day to let the rivals do their thing so when the National Football League was founded in 1920, it immediately began 6 big deal rival match up games on Thanksgiving. Today, it’s three. Probably because if the entire day was football, the moms and grandmas might have something to say.
How American is this? In 1924 Macy’s decided to unveil its 1 million square foot flagship retail store at the start of the busiest shopping time of the year. It really wan’t about Thanksgiving but prepping for Christmas, or if we’re being honest, spending money.
BUT Gimbel Brothers in Philadelphia actually had a Thanksgiving parade four years earlier in 1920, for the same reasons of course. 50 people, 15 cars, and a fireman dressed like Santa (Thank you history.com) let everyone know it’s Christmas time and start shopping.
So up to this point, the ‘ragamuffins’ (Read earlier) was the only parade-is thing happening. Macy’s got the grand idea to end this creepy and not popular tradition of literally begging in the streets, replace it with mirth and happiness, oh and usher in the season of ‘spend all your money with us’.
WTH Thanksgiving Traditions
A chicken, deboned and stuffed into a duck. Then that is stuffed into a turkey. why? No seriously, why? Last year I saw a photo of an octopus stuffed in a turkey and dubbed tour-cracken. I mean, part of me says, to each his own, and the pirate in me got a bit of a chuckle, but the other part of me is currently holding my stomach and bent over retching.
Sometimes they’re on TV. Sometimes they are performed at home. This is a relatively new Thanksgiving tradition that involves putting someone in the ‘hot seat’ or ‘chopping block’ and people take turns toasting them….but the ‘toast’ is actually a roast so a critique or poking fun all in the name of love and honor.
Look I know there has been this trend of playing horrible pranks and doing really mean things to your partner, filming them and posting them on You Tube. I don’t get it. Mean does not equal funny. And let’s be real, family? They’re going to cut to the bone. They know the stories have the secrets! They know the soft underbelly!
So, call me old fashioned but I’d prefer not to be collectively insulted by my family for whom I just cooked a giant dinner. A simple ‘Thank you’ is quite sufficient.
More Thanksgiving Traditions
Weird or not, Thanksgiving is full of traditions and I’m guessing you have your own in your family too. Thanksgiving, much like America is a coming together of all cultures and peoples. In its simplest form, it’s a day set aside to give thanks for all we have been so richly blessed with.
However you celebrate, whatever your family traditions are, it’s good to know the origins of the holiday and to honor that for what it is. I mean a lot of these modern ‘traditions’ are silly but they are also wasteful and in a day in age where we are all trying to be mindful of that, I’ll leave you with the words of my grandmother.
She said, “If the only prayer you ever say is ‘THANK YOU’ and you mean it, that’s enough.” I would extend that thought to the people around us as well. You can truly never go wrong telling someone Thanks. SO on that note, Thanks for reading and very Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!
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