THE MASONRY MONTHLY
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THE HISTORY BEHIND THANKSGIVING TRADITIONS
I n our lifetimes, Thanksgiving hasn’t changed all that much. Sure, you may have modernized the menu and begun posting your family photos to Instagram, but the tried-and-true quartet of family, football, grub, and gratitude has been in place for generations. While it’s easy to take holiday traditions as a given, each one has a fascinating history all its own. Christmas trees, Valentine’s chocolate, and other de rigueur activities often have strange, unexpected origins. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the backstories behind some of the essential Thanksgiving traditions. Turkey Unlike other items on this list, it’s likely that turkey has been a staple of Thanksgivings since the first Thanksgiving in 1621. At the time, the holiday didn’t even have a name, and it was still more than 200 years away from being officially recognized by Abraham Lincoln. Governor William Bradford described the menu in his journal “Of Plymouth Plantation,” which is one of the earliest accounts of life in colonial America. “Besides waterfowl,” he wrote, “there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc.” As the colonists moved throughout the continent, they brought turkeys with them. In fact, there was even a specific role, called a “turkey drover,” for the person who would shepherd the birds from one part of the country to another. The relationship between turkey and Thanksgiving was well-established by the time the American Revolution began. Alexander Hamilton went so far as to say, “No citizen of the U.S. shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day.” According to the National Turkey Federation, more than 40 million turkeys are eaten each Thanksgiving, so it’s safe to assume that most people are heeding Hamilton's advice. Football American football — or any football, for that matter — wasn’t even a sport when Thanksgiving began. However, the association between the two American icons dates back to the earliest days of the sport in the late 19th century. Harvard and Yale played the first Thanksgiving game in 1876. A decade There are only two primary source documents detailing the meal between the Massachusetts colonists and the Wampanoag natives, and one of them mentions the famous Thanksgiving bird explicitly. Plymouth County
later, the University of Michigan began a series of games that most historians believe inaugurated the tradition of Thanksgiving football in earnest.
College football may have been where the sport’s relationship with Thanksgiving began, but the NFL is how we get our Thanksgiving football fix these days. The Detroit Lions played in the first professional “Turkey Bowl” in 1934 against the Bears, and the Dallas Cowboys got in on the act in 1966.
The teams from Detroit and Dallas still host holiday games to this day. The NFL, never one to miss an opportunity to make money, added a third Thanksgiving
game in 2011. One year later, Mark Sanchez of the Jets produced the now-notorious “butt fumble,” laying an egg that even the largest fowl would be envious of. Black Friday The wildest shopping day on the calendar begins earlier and grows more annoying every year — recently, it’s started to encroach on Thanksgiving itself, making you wonder if you should stick
around for pie or head off to the mega-retailer for a chance to take advantage of some screaming deals. You may be happy to know that people being irritated about Black Friday goes back as far the tradition itself. Many people assume that the holiday gets its name from retailers going from “red” (having a loss) to “black” (making a profit) on that day, but that’s actually a myth. The term was coined by Philadelphia police officers to describe the influx of suburban shoppers who flocked to the city, wreaking havoc and forcing them to work long hours. It took only a few years for Black Friday to become an unofficial city holiday. Black Friday in Philadelphia began in the 1950s. A few decades later, in the ‘80s, when America was chock-full of shopping malls, it became a nation-wide phenomenon. Even the explosion of online retail hasn’t slowed the droves of people lining up at insane hours to secure the biggest savings of the season. Thanksgiving is one of the most traditional holidays. Whether you’re content to keep the routine the same or are the type of person who likes to spice things up, it’s fun to know why Thanksgiving looks and feels the same for so many Americans.
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