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Popular Thanksgiving Traditions

Thanksgiving traditions are no joke.  Each and every November, the majority of us return to the same foods and comforts without giving it a second thought, because - and let’s be honest here - Thanksgiving just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a little pigskin, turkey, and pumpkin pie.  

This month, the inevitable will happen: 1) the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade will take place in New York and be broadcast all across the country, 2) your kitchen will overflow with once-a-year goodies like turkey, pumpkin filling, and enough yams to feed a small army, and 3) the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys will play football.  Ever wonder how, why, or where some of these quirky Thanksgiving traditions came into being? No? Well, we’re here to tell you anyway.  You may be surprised to learn how many of your favorite holiday pastimes originated.      

1. The Turkey
Ah yes, the turkey.  The delectable bird that sits atop many of our dining tables on Thanksgiving, sending guests into food-induced comas once consumed.  Deep fried, oven roasted, grilled - it doesn’t matter how you cook it, it’s always a tasty treat.  But why do we eat turkey on Thanksgiving?

The most agreed upon theory is that the pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians ate turkey on the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth Colony.  In a journal entry from 1621, pilgrim Edward Winslow references the deer and fowl eaten during the feast, with a vague mention of turkey hunting prior to the meal.  Indeed, turkeys were plentiful while other birds were in short supply.  However, it wasn’t until the mid-1800s that turkey became an absolute staple of the Thanksgiving meal.  When magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale read about the 1621 pilgrim feast, she decided to use turkey as a model for the annual celebration.  She soon published recipes for turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie, igniting the popular traditions that remain alive and well to this day.  

2. Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
Every year starting at 9 a.m. EST, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade begins in New York City.  Millions of children and adults alike gather in the streets of New York, while countless others across the globe sit glued to their TVs at home.  The parade originated in 1924, at a time when many of Macy’s employees were first-generation European immigrants.  Proud of their newfound American heritage, they decided to celebrate Thanksgiving in traditional European style.  They donned bright costumes, created floats, hired bands, and marched from 154th Street in Harlem to Macy’s flagship store on 34th Street.  With over 250,000 in attendance that year, the parade was declared a huge success and made into an annual event.  

Did You Know? The arrival of Santa Clause at the parade’s finale represents the kick off to Christmas for many people worldwide.     

3. Black Friday
The day after Thanksgiving, commonly known as Black Friday, is the most popular shopping day of the year, and marks the official start of the Christmas shopping season.  Depending on your level of enthusiasm towards shopping, the term Black Friday may either bring a smile to your face or fill you with a sense of unadulterated panic.  Steep savings can be found everywhere for those brave enough to face the pushy crowds and spirit-crushing lineups.  In many instances, big box stores open at 4:00 a.m. with the promise of “door crasher” incentives, encouraging customers to line up the night before.  

You might be wondering how Black Friday got its name (and if you weren’t wondering, we trust that you are now), so we’re here to satisfy your curiosity.  Traditional accounting practices use red ink to indicate losses and black ink to indicate profits.  Black Friday refers to the point at which retailers find themselves “in the black,” or turning a profit.  Retailers heavily depend on a dramatic increase in purchases throughout the Christmas shopping season to make up for any losses incurred throughout the rest of the year.

4. Football
NFL football on Thanksgiving is a beloved tradition that has been around for decades, much to the chagrin of non-football lovers everywhere.  The ritual dates back to 1876, when Yale and Princeton established an annual Thanksgiving game day tradition.  The National Football League followed suit in 1920 with the “Thanksgiving Classic,” which has since evolved into three games played in the early afternoon, late afternoon, and evening respectively.   Both the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys play at their home stadiums with rotating opponents, while a third, alternating team hosts the night game.   If you’re looking for an excuse to throw on your Thanksgiving pants and post up in front of the TV after enjoying more mashed potatoes than you’d care to admit, football might be your new best friend.

Thanksgiving traditions may not make a lot of sense, but they certainly have historic roots.  So if you’re a turkey-eating, parade-watching, money-spending, football-loving kind of person (and even if you’re not), go ahead and enjoy your holiday! 
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