The most common Thanksgiving holiday traditions are:
Thanksgiving Day Parade
Breaking the wishbone
Turkey and trimmings
I am unclear how the genealogy section of About.com determined this; yet intuitively it appears correct. Ever curious (and always looking for content for my column), I wondered how these came to be; so I did some research. I share.
According to historians, the pilgrims never observed an annual Thanksgiving banquet in autumn. In the year 1621, they did celebrate a feast following their first harvest, but this ceremony was never repeated. (Oddly, most devoutly religious pilgrims of that time did observe a day of thanksgiving, but they did so by fasting.) George Washington was the first president to declare the holiday, in 1789.
In the mid-1800s, many states - but not all - observed a Thanksgiving holiday. During the Civil War, president Lincoln, looking for ways to unite the nation, discussed the subject with poet and editor Sarah J. Hale, who had been lobbying for Thanksgiving to become a national holiday. In 1863 he gave his Thanksgiving proclamation and declared the last Thursday in November a day of thanksgiving.
Seeking to lengthen the Christmas shopping season, Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1939, 1940, and 1941, changed Thanksgiving to the third Thursday in November. Finally, amid controversy, Congress passed a joint resolution in 1941 and since that time, Thanksgiving remains on the fourth Thursday of November.
Of course, giving thanks remains the bedrock of the celebration and our country is not alone in that tradition. Other countries with an official Thanksgiving holiday include Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Japan, Korea, Liberia, and Switzerland.
As for football, the first intercollegiate football championship was held on Thanksgiving Day in 1876. Parades started almost a half-century later when, in 1920, Gimbel’s Department Store in Philadelphia organized the first one. Many erroneously credit the first parade to Macy’s, which actually began in 1924, and of course, continues to this day.
I did not realize that the wishbone had such a long history. Getting the larger section of the wishbone and making a wish upon it dates back to the Etruscans (who lived in northwestern Italy in the first millennium BC). The Romans brought the tradition with them when they conquered England and the English colonists carried the tradition on to America. For those of us who appreciate the derivation of phrases, the term “lucky break,” comes from getting the larger piece.
With regards to the choice of turkey for the main course of the meal, blame or credit that to the evolution of our language. In the 1600s, “turkey” was the generic name to describe all fowl. Actually, many historical accounts of that first feast include references to venison, boiled pumpkin, berries, and, maybe even shellfish.
Although food is definitely a means by which we celebrate good fortune, I must note that nowhere is “stuffing oneself until sick” listed as a tradition. Quite the contrary, I would go so far as to say that uncomfortable, pained, hyper-expanded feeling that follows so many Thanksgiving celebrations actually detracts from the appreciative sense of gratitude one would hope to experience. Maybe, that’s one tradition we can drop this year.
Therefore, amid friends and family, let us resolve this year to find more reasons to give thanks, more occasions to help those less fortunate than us, and more ways to take better care of ourselves, starting with a wonderful Thanksgiving.
About the author: Scott “Q” Marcus is the CRP (Chief Recovering Perfectionist) of www.ThisTimeIMeanIt.com, a website to support folks frustrated with making promises and ready to make a change in a supportive environment. Sign up for his free newsletter at the site or at facebook.com/thistimeimeanit. Contact him for coaching, consulting, workshops, and speaking at (707) 442-6243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. His first six years of these columns are now available on Amazon at http://amzn.to/StrivingBooks.