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The Origins of our Thanksgiving Traditions

The smell of fresh pumpkin pie and the sounds of cousins playing tackle football while aunts and uncles mingle in the busy kitchen help concoct the essence of Thanksgiving Day. It’s a celebration we’ve taken part in since most of us can remember. It’s part of our pilgrim history, our heritage. Here’s the funny thing: while a majority can explain how Thanksgiving itself came to be, there are few who know why football is always played in the backyard, where Black Friday traditions began and how Macy’s came up with the idea to have a yearly Thanksgiving parade. So, I did some research into the origins of our more modern Thanksgiving rituals.


If you’re like me, when you picture a Thanksgiving meal, you see that golden turkey at the center of the feast, surrounded by an assortment of sides. But according to CBS, turkey wasn’t always a staple for the holiday. Venison (deer meat) was the meal of choice at the first Thanksgiving, but in the early 19th century, as the holiday grew in popularity, turkey was used as a means of introducing immigrants to American food since the animal was indigenous to North America.


Football may be more popular as a Thanksgiving ritual than apple pie. Families across the country tune in for rivalry games and have their own Super Bowls in their backyards. This tradition is deep-seated in the holiday, with the first Thanksgiving football game happening in 1876, according to History.com, 13 years after Thanksgiving was declared a holiday. From there, holiday rivalry games were played year after year and became the tradition that glues many to televisions on Thanksgiving Day.

Dog Show

In recent years, Thanksgiving has also become a time to celebrate our four-legged friends by watching the National Dog Show. While the show has been around since 1876, it’s only been aired on Thanksgiving since 2002, according to the New York Post. Everyone can root for their favorite breed of dog or laugh at the more curious or odd looking entries. While there’s just one winner picked at the end, it’s my opinion that all the dogs are 13/10.

Black Friday

After a day of football and food comas, the time comes for people to line up and swarm the stores for the best deals of the year. The term “Black Friday” now refers to how it will allow businesses to end up in the “black,” or that the companies will turn a profit, though it wasn’t always this way.

Black Friday originated in Philadelphia in the 1950s, where people would flood the cities in preparation for the Army-Navy Game, meaning not only a rise in traffic to stores, but also in looting, according to History.com. The name originally had a very negative connotation for the city, but as the retail event spread, merchants created the new definition to make it more positive. Now, Black Friday has spawned other similar retail events, like Cyber Monday and Small Business Saturday.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

There’s no better way to start off a Thanksgiving Day than to watch a parade of oversized balloons and lip-syncing celebrities. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has been a tradition since 1924, when it actually started as a solely Christmas-themed event to celebrate the launch of the “World’s Largest Store,” according to History.com. The parade still ends with Santa on his sleigh, officially ushering in the Christmas season, before most families have yet to carve into their Thanksgiving turkey.



About the author

Marlee Drake

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