Last updateWed, 13 Dec 2017 8am


Thanksgiving Traditions: How the Times Have Changed

1993-football-gameThanksgiving is an American holiday celebrated every fourth Thursday of November. However, the meaning of this holiday has transformed over time.

The tradition dates back to 1621 when the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony had a feast with the Wampanoag tribe. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proposed making Thanksgiving a national holiday, but it was not until 1941 when Thanksgiving Day was made an official holiday by Congress.

Since the original Thanksgiving feast, much has changed.

For example, the indulgence of turkey does not trace back to the Pilgrims and Wampanoag tribe. The original Thanksgiving meal incorporated small fowl and five deer, not turkey. Most of the food was not provided by the Pilgrims but instead was brought by the Wampanoag tribe.

The traditional Thanksgiving dinner we cherish today was created by a woman named Sarah Josepha Hale. Often referred to as "The Godmother of Thanksgiving," Hale climbed the ranks to become editor of Bodey's Lady's Book, the 19th century's most successful woman's magazine in America. She used her leverage to publish Thanksgiving dinner recipes, including those for turkey and pumpkin pies.

According to CNN, 253.5 million turkeys were raised for Thanksgiving in 2012 and 242 million were raised in 2013. The numbers for this year, although they cannot be solidified until after Thanksgiving, are expected to increase five percent from 2013's total.

Another element Americans expect to see on their Thanksgiving table is cranberry sauce. While cranberries were plentiful in the Plymouth region, the Native American tradition was to dry out the fruit rather than create a sauce. We can thank General Ulysses S. Grant for cranberry sauce, as it became a popular Thanksgiving side dish after he ordered it for his Civil War troops' holiday meal. With this said, cranberry sauce was not easy to come until 1930 when Ocean Spray began their business.

As mentioned before, traditions change over periods of time. New elements are brought into play that shape Thanksgiving day and these elements are not limited to the Thanksgiving feast.

One of these elements is the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. In 1924, Macy's began this holiday tradition. However, there were two major differences. Instead of referring to the parade as the Thanksgiving Day Parade, it was a Christmas Parade, and instead of using floats, Macy's used live animals from Central Park Zoo.

In 1927, Macy's deemed floats as the best venue for their parade and America has had the tradition ever since. According to Macy's, 3.5 million people attend the parade each year while an average of 50 million watch from the television sets.

"I think Thanksgiving has been commercialized, but some of these commercialized elements have become a part of the Thanksgiving tradition," said Nicole Comito, a senior art major.

Another well admired Thanksgiving tradition is football. Families and friends crowd around the television stuffing their faces and yelling at coaches, players and refrees through a screen. Although this may seem like an annual Sunday event, senior English and education major, Rachel Fox, believes otherwise.

"My family is very big into football. My dad played in college and now my brother plays at Widener. The difference between a Thanksgiving football game and an ordinary Sunday game is monumental. There are so many more people around Thanksgiving which creates a crazy atmosphere," Fox said.

The Thanksgiving Day football tradition began during the 1934 season when the Detroit Lions decided to play against the Chicago Bears. These games have provided countless memorable moments in the NFL. The 1993 game comes to most football fans' minds as it created one of the most bizarre NFL stories in the league's history.

On a 32-degree afternoon in Dallas Texas, the Cowboys took the field against the Miami Dolphins. The Dallas Stadium resembled a white blanket rather than a field and this caused for many unusual plays and plenty of fumbles.

Another Thanksgiving tradition the Pilgrims and even Hale never would have imagined is travelling. It is estimated by the American Automobile Association (AAA) that 42.2 million Americans voyage 50 miles or more during the holiday weekend. Thus, the day after Thanksgiving has been referred to as "Busiest Travel Day of the Year."

Others find themselves at malls across the nation following Thanksgiving Day. Consumers are often enticed by the deals and by the overwhelming list of presents they need to purchase. The tradition is called Black Friday. This annual event occurs the Friday after Thanksgiving. However, many stores are beginning to open on Thanksgiving Day. Among these are Target, Walmart, and Macy's while other stores such as Costco and Marshall's refuse to cut the holiday short.​

What was seen as a great way to save money has now put a damper on many people's Thanksgiving plans. "I believe thanksgiving gets overshadowed by Black Friday Christmas shopping. Some stores are beginning to open on Thanksgiving, adding pressure to shoppers and taking away time from families," Fox said.

Professor Brian Merry of the history department agrees that Black Friday has taken over what was a supposed to be a day of thanks. "I am disappointed that Christmas shopping has invaded Thanksgiving. I didn't have a problem with Black Friday, but the Thanksgiving sales really defeat the purpose of the holiday. It really has been the choice of Americans though. Instead of spending time with family and giving thanks, people have chosen to stand in line for consumer products," he said.

While some of these new traditions can be looked at as upsetting and others as enjoyable, the one fact that has not changed about Thanksgiving itself is the notion of being thankful.

"On Thanksgiving day, my family comes over to my house and we have dinner. It's a good time for us all to hangout and catch up since we are busy throughout the school year," Comito said.

Merry agreed as he said, "I spend Thanksgiving with my family and close family friends. To me, Thanksgiving means the smell of cooking turkey, the Macy's parade, football, eating excessive amounts of food and family. It really is a big holiday for our family, and we always point out how thankful we are all to be together."

Even though these new traditions are taking hold of Thanksgiving, do not forget to recollect on all you are thankful for and appreciate what you have.

IMAGE TAKEN from concordmoniter.com

Contact Information

The Outlook
Jules L. Plangere Jr. Center for Communication
and Instructional Technology (CCIT)
Room 260, 2nd floor

The Outlook
Monmouth University
400 Cedar Ave, West Long Branch, New Jersey

Phone: (732) 571-3481 | Fax: (732) 263-5151
Email: outlook@monmouth.edu