10 Thanksgiving Traditions

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There's a lot more to Thanksgiving than just the turkey and the Pilgrims. While eating turkey and pumpkin pie is probably the most well-known tradition, there are lots of other customs that you could be missing out on (or did miss out on, if they aren't celebrated any more).

1. The Turkey Trot Footrace. I participated in my first Turkey Trot last year "“ a brisk, two-mile run at seven a.m. to lessen the guilt about the impending feast (they aren't all two miles or early in the morning, though "“ distances and times vary from race to race). The oldest known Turkey Trot footrace takes place in Buffalo, N.Y., and has been happening every year since 1896. More than 8,000 runners participated in the 4.97 mile race last year.

2. The Great Gobbler Gallop in Cuero, Texas. During their annual TurkeyFest in November, they gather a bunch of turkeys and have the "Great Gobbler Gallop," a turkey race. It started in 1908 when a turkey dressing house opened in town. Early in November, farmers would herd their turkeys down the road toward the dressing house so the birds could be prepared for Thanksgiving. As you can imagine, this was quite a spectacle - as many as 20,000 turkeys have been part of this "march". People gathered to watch, and eventually the first official festival was formed around the event in 1912. The final event of the celebration is the aforementioned Great Gobbler Gallop, a race between the Cuero turkey champ and the champ from Worthington, Minnesota (they have a TurkeyFest as well). Each town holds a heat and the best time between the towns wins. The prize is a four-foot trophy called "The Traveling Turkey Trophy of Tumultuous Triumph".

3. Franksgiving. From 1939-1941, FDR moved Thanksgiving up by a week. In '39, Thanksgiving, traditionally held on the last Thursday of November, fell on the 30th. Since a lot of people wait until after Thanksgiving to start their Christmas shopping, Roosevelt was concerned that having the holiday so late in the month would mess up retail sales when he was trying to hard to pull Americans out of the Great Depression. A lot of people were not happy about it for a lot of different reasons. Some states observed FDR's change, and others celebrated what was being called the "Republican" Thanksgiving on the traditional, last-Thursday date. Colorado, Mississippi, and Texas all considered both Thanksgivings to be holidays. We've now split the difference "“ it's held on the fourth Thursday of November, regardless of whether that's the last week of the month or not.

truman4. The Presidential Turkey Pardon. The story goes that at least since Harry Truman, it has been tradition for the President of the U.S. to save a couple of birds from becoming someone's feast.

Records only go back to George H.W. Bush doing it, though, and some say the tradition goes all the way back to Abraham Lincoln pardoning his son's pet turkey. Lincoln is also the President who originally declared that the holiday be held on the last Thursday of November. In recent years, the public has gotten to name the turkeys. They were Stars and Stripes in 2003, Biscuit and Gravy in 2004, Marshmallow and Yam in 2005, Flyer and Fryer in 2006, and May and Flower last year.

5. You guys know about the Macy's Parade, but for a more historically-accurate parade, check out America's Hometown Thanksgiving Parade in Plymouth. I wonder if the people of Plymouth hate the Macy's parade for stealing their thunder? I would, if I lived there. Anyway. The parade starts with a Military Flyover and continues with floats and costumed people taking the parade-goers from the 17th century to the present time. According to the http://www.usathanksgiving.com/2008/parade/index.shtml website, there are "nationally recognized Drum and Bugle Corps, re-enactment units from every period of American history and military marching units. Military bands play music honoring the courageous defenders of our country: the men and women who serve in the Army, the Navy, the Marines, the Air Force and the Coast Guard."

6. Black Friday, of course, is the day-after sales at a bunch of major (and minor) retailers. I have mixed emotions about Black Friday. It seems fun in theory "“ getting bargains is always fun "“ but getting up early and dealing with huge crowds fighting over the last Tickle Me Elmo (I know: sooooo 1996) is anything but. Most people think that the term comes from the day of the year when retail stores make their profits go from red to black, but other sources have it originating from police officers in Philadelphia. They referred to the day as Black Friday because of the heavy traffic and higher propensity for accidents. Also: just because you hear that it's "the busiest shopping day of the season" on the news, don't believe it. It's one of the busiest days, but hardly ever the busiest (2003 and 2005 were the exceptions). It usually ranks somewhere in the top 10. The busiest shopping day of the year is usually the Saturday before Christmas.

7. However, Black Friday is quickly being rivaled in popularity by Cyber Monday. It's a fairly recent phenomenon "“ it didn't even have a name until 2005. But there's truth to it "“ 77 percent of online retailers have reported an increase in sales on that particular day.

8. And in retaliation for Black Friday, there's Buy Nothing Day. To protest consumerism, a bunch of people informally celebrate BND. It was first "celebrated" in 1992, but didn't settle on its day-after-Thanksgiving date until 1997, where it has been ever since. It's also observed internationally, but outside of North America the day of observance is the Saturday after our Thanksgiving.

football9. Football. I'm sure this sight is as common across the U.S. as it is in my house: dads, grandpas and uncles passed out on the couch watching football after dinner. And even if they appear to be asleep, they always know if you try to change the channel. Well, we have the first Detroit Lions owner, G.A. Richards, to thank for the tradition of Thanksgiving football. He saw it as a way to get people to his games. CBS was the first on the bandwagon "“ they televised their first Thanksgiving game in 1956. The first color broadcast was in 1965 "“ the Lions vs. the Baltimore Colts. Since the 1960s, the Dallas Cowboys have joined the Lions in hosting Thanksgiving Day games, and the NFL Network now airs a third game on that night. (This year, the Arizona Cardinals take on the Philadelphia Eagles after Lions-Titans and Cowboys-Seahawks.)

10. Of course, if football isn't your thing, there's always the National Dog Show. It's aired after the Macy's Parade on NBC every year. Good luck telling your dad that he'll be enjoying Springer Spaniels instead of the Seattle Seahawks, though.

October 22, 2008 - 9:05am
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