Thanksgiving: The Story Behind Traditions

Nov 18, 2011 By Deepa Gopal
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It is that time of the year again when families gather around the table to share a meal and are thankful for their blessings.

You might think that the Thanksgiving tradition began with settlers and Native Americans sharing their first meal together in the New Land. That was not quite the case, according to experts. 

It is true that in 1621, local Wampanoag Indians and white settlers gathered together for a three-day harvest celebration in Plymouth, Massachusetts. However, there is no indication that this custom was ever continued.

The idea of an annual feast was first proposed by Sarah Hale, a magazine editor best known for her children's poem "Mary had a little lamb". Over a period of forty years, Hale sent several letters to governors and presidents. Her efforts finally paid off and in 1863, President Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November as a National Day of Thanksgiving. 

Today Thanksgiving centers around elaborate turkey dinners with families and friends, watching football games, and the Macy's Day Parade if you happen to be in New York city. How did these seemingly unrelated events become part of Thanksgiving? Lets find out.

Were Turkeys On The Original Menu?

Did you know that turkeys were not in the menu at the 1621 harvest celebration? The early settlers who came from England treated geese as delicacy -- but in the new land, they found plenty of wild turkeys roaming free. They substituted turkey meat for geese, and even introduced it back in their home country, England.  

Every year, the U.S President pardons two turkeys -- a tradition started by President George H.W Bush in 1989 and continued by his successors. In the past, the two pardoned turkeys were flown to Disneyland California where they participated in the Thanksgiving day parade before retiring to the Disneyland ranch. Since last year, the two turkeys live out the rest of their lives at George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens in Virginia.

Games And Parades

Football has become a key part of Turkey Day celebrations, thanks to George Richards. He had purchased a football club in Ohio and moved them to Detroit in 1934. To showcase his new team - the Lions, he invited the Chicago Bears to play the opening game on Thanksgiving day. The Lions lost the opening game; however, the tradition continues to this day.

Macy's Day Parade is another tradition that has its roots in a small parade held by employees of Macy's in 1927. The employees who were mostly immigrants wanted to celebrate just as their families had done back home. They borrowed animals from New York's Central Park zoo and staged a festive march with floats, balloons and entertainers. This small parade is now a national event that is televised and draws as many as 45 million viewers.

How will you be celebrating Thanksgiving this year?