…Plus 6 Other Thanksgiving Tradition Ideas

One of our favorite things about the Thanksgiving holiday at PrimeLending is when our employees can gather together for a potluck feast, leave work behind for an hour and just visit with each other like neighbors! We learn so much about each other’s family traditions, from Thanksgiving menu must-haves and front-yard pigskin games, to volunteer work at soup kitchens and participation in local Turkey Trot runs. And that got us thinking … what are the real stories behind our Thanksgiving traditions? Why turkey? Why football? Why parades?

We did some digging and uncovered some very interesting facts about the History Behind 5 Popular Thanksgiving Traditions.

THE TURKEY — The turkey has been the centerpiece of the traditional Thanksgiving meal, not since the very first Thanksgiving when the Pilgrims feasted on other fowl and venison, but since well-known “Mary Had a Little Lamb” Author Sarah Josepha Hale began promoting turkey as a family’s main Thanksgiving course. We can also thank Hale, the “Godmother of Thanksgiving,” for encouraging U.S. officials to make Thanksgiving an official holiday, of which Abraham Lincoln instituted in 1863.

But why turkey? Turkeys were a plentiful option in New England, they served a lot of people and they weren’t needed for other consumption purposes, since they don’t produce eggs or milk. Centuries later, the National Turkey Federation reports nearly 88 percent of Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving.

Check out these other interesting turkey facts:

  • Only tom turkeys gobble.
  • Hen turkeys make a clicking noise.
  • Domesticated turkeys cannot fly.
  • The Pilgrims may have cooked a wild turkey at the first Thanksgiving in 1621, but it’s more likely that they enjoyed goose or duck.
  • Wild turkeys can fly for short distances up to 55 miles per hour and can run 20 miles per hour.
  • Paul Kelly from Little Claydon Farm in Essex, UK, holds the world record for the fastest turkey carving time of 3 minutes, 19.47 seconds.
  • Paul Kelly also holds the title for fastest time to pluck three turkeys (11 minutes, 30.16 seconds), edging out renowned chef Gordon Ramsay by 1.62 seconds.

THE TRIMMINGS — While many of us have had that family member or friend that brought the “unique” casserole dish or a Jell-O mold a la Aunt Bethany in “Christmas Vacation,” most of us look forward to the more traditional Thanksgiving trimmings, like stuffing, gravy, mash potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, etc. One of our PrimeLending employees recently shared that her family has an annual heated debate whether cranberry sauce made from scratch or cranberry from the can is better. So what’s the history behind cranberry sauce?

While the Pilgrims had access to cranberries, the sugar needed to make cranberry sauce was an expensive luxury item at the time. The first indication of the cranberry sauce we know today was reported by travelers in 1663. Ocean Spray introduced the canned jellied cranberry sauce in the early 1930s.

Also of Thanksgiving trimmings note:

  • The Pilgrims didn’t experience the deliciousness of mash potatoes or sweet-potato casserole, as potatoes had not yet arrived to North America.
  • With no access to butter, wheat and flower, sadly our Pilgrims did not experience the Pumpkin Pie or any other flavored pie.
  • The 1621 Thanksgiving side dishes likely included meat, meat and more meat, in addition to shellfish, turnips, and carrots.
  • Thanksgiving leftovers inspired the first-ever TV dinner, developed by Swanson in 1953 as a solution for overestimating the demand for turkey by 260 tons.

THE WISHBONE — The breaking of the wishbone is one tradition not everyone is familiar with. But those who are can’t always explain where the tradition comes from.

In short, the wishbone (the turkey’s clavicle or furcula) is saved from the turkey’s carcass and dried out. Then, family members battle it out for the opportunity to crack it in half. Two people face each other, each holding one end of the wishbone. On the count of three, they both pull, and whoever pulls the bigger piece assumes that his or her wish will come true.

In long, there are reports that the wishbone tradition dates back thousands of years to ancient civilizations, beginning with the Etruscans, who believed that their chickens were oracles and could predict the future. When a chicken was killed, the furcula (where two clavicles fused together – a.k.a., wishbone) was laid out in the sun to dry. Etruscans would rub the bone while making a wish. The Romans adopted the tradition, but due to a shortage of the wishbones, two people would make a wish on one wishbone and then break it to determine whose wish would come true. The Europeans adopted the Roman’s tradition and eventually introduced it to the New World, using both turkeys’ and chickens’ furcula.

THE PARADE — The very first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade took place in New York City in 1924, featuring large floats and live animals from Central Park Zoo. Originally called Macy’s Christmas Parade, it was renamed Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1927, the same year that Goodyear created the first character balloon, Felix the Cat. Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse balloon debuted in 1934. The parade was televised nationally for the first time in 1947. Today, the parade draws a crowd of 3.5 million in New York, with another 50 million television viewers.

THE FOOTBALL — What’s a Thanksgiving Day without football … whether it’s an impromptu pigskin game with family in the front yard, or the beloved NFL game televised live from kickoff to the winning team enjoying some turkey legs! Did you know that the Thanksgiving football tradition actually originated with collegiate and high school games? The first Thanksgiving game, according to the American Intercollegiate Football Association, was played in 1876. Eventually when the collegiate and high school organizations dropped the fourth Thursday in November from their season lineup, the Detroit Lions picked up the turkey ball in 1934 with a game against the Chicago bears. Since then, the Lions continue to play every Thanksgiving Day, with a brief hiatus from 1939 to 1944. The Dallas Cowboys began their Thanksgiving Day game tradition in 1966, missing games in 1975 and 1977.

Making More Traditions

While it’s been fun digging up the facts behind why we gather around a table every November and stuff ourselves silly, we also want to share with you, our customer neighbors, some other traditions that your PrimeLending family takes part in each year. Perhaps you’ll add one of these traditions to your family’s Thanksgiving:

  • Volunteering at a Soup Kitchen — Not everyone has a dinner table to feast at for Thanksgiving. Many local restaurants and service organizations gladly accept volunteers for soup kitchens that can serve the homeless and others in need.
  • Running the Turkey Trot — Many cities have annual “turkey trot” fun runs, benefitting local charities. Dallas’ Turkey Trot, beginning in the 1940s, set a world record in 2011 for the largest gathering of people dressed as turkeys (661 people in total).
  • Growing a Thankful Tree — Before any other holiday tree goes up, some people create a “thankful tree,” from which they hang pieces of paper inscribed with gratitude from friends and family.
  • Passing the Thanks — After the trimmings are passed, why not pass around the thanks? For this gratitude activity, guests write messages of thanks on leaf-shaped paper, place them on a platter and pass them around the dinner table to be read aloud. It can become a game when guessing who wrote each one.
  • Games, Games, Games — Football isn’t the only game to play! Thanksgiving Day is a perfect time to bring out the classics, like Checkers, Chess, Chinese Checkers, Pocino, Forkle, Monopoly, Life, Clue … the options are endless!
  • Black Friday — Controversial for some, but with Black Friday really starting on Thursday evening now, many people cap off their Thanksgiving Day with early holiday gift shopping.

We wish you and yours the happiest of Thanksgivings. We are thankful for you this holiday season and will include you in our events of gratitude! Gobble, Gobble!

From the PrimeLending Blog, by Mandy Jordan