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Erin McCarthy

25 Wacky Trading Cards From the '80s and '90s

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Erin McCarthy

While most people associate the concept of trading cards with sports and their most famous players—even non-baseball fans are dimly aware of the value of a “mint” card of a legendary slugger—the cardboard treatment isn’t just reserved for major league endeavors. It turns out that you can make anything into a fun trading card, from musicians to toys to actual wars, and the popular wax packs of the '80s and '90s delivered on that in a big way.

The wax pack format gave the buyer more than just cards—most sets included the standard trading cards, a collectable sticker (sometimes a standalone and sometimes part of a larger picture), and a piece of bubble gum. And, yes, if you find an unopened wax pack and crack that baby open, most sticks of gum have retained their shape—though you probably wouldn’t want to pop them into your mouth. While not all of our picks here are true wax packs, they’re all just a bit too weird to believe ever existed (and still do!).

1. The Blair Witch Project

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While the 1999 horror film was one of the first big screen features to utilize the web for viral marketing (remember when people thought it was actually a true story?), The Blair Witch Project took a surprisingly traditional marketing route when it came to its 72-piece trading card set. Issued by Topps, the foil-wrapped cards were unexpectedly arty, creepy, and haunting – but they also relied on the lure of “randomly inserted” special foil cards to keep buyers snatching them up left and right. Nevermind the nightmares.

2. Yo! MTV Raps

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Though it’s hard to imagine earning street cred from a pack of cards, the 1991 Yo! MTV Raps sort of gave that to its buyers—after all, name another set of cards that could provide you with details about Vanilla Ice, MC Hammer, KRS-One, and even Young Black Teenagers. Each card included fun facts about popular acts, perfect for impressing your music snob friends. Quick! What’s Big Boi’s real name?

3. Saved By the Bell

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Of course Saved By the Bell got its own trading card set (even Saved By the Bell: The College Years got one!), because what could be more hip than a fully numbered set of snazzy promo pics of your favorite television show stars? Though the Saved By the Bell cards didn’t come with gum or a lock of Zack’s hair, they were highly collectible and fun to trade. Here, take my Slater.

4. 21 Jump Street

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A number of wax packs featured hand-drawn original art on their wrappers, and while that’s certainly a creative way to go, the results were sometimes questionable. Take Topps’ 1987 set of cards for television’s smash hit 21 Jump Street—who is that on the wrapper? Is it star Johnny Depp, or is it a weird amalgamation of Depp and Richard Greico? We will never know, but at least there’s some gum inside for you to chew while you mull it over.

5. ALF

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It’s weird enough to remember ALF as just a popular television show—a popular television show about a foul-mouthed alien who unhinges his adopted human family thanks to both his hijinks and his constant attempts to eat neighborhood cats—but it’s even stranger to remember that Topps gave the show a two-series trading card run back in the '80s. Like any good wax pack, the Topps card included stickers to form full puzzles. Each pack also included one “bouillabaseball player” card, featuring one of Gordon Shumway’s favorite players.

6. Saturday Night Live


Erin McCarthy

Bad news, guys, the Saturday Night Live trading cards from 1992 are not funny. Sure, they may be funny in retrospect—or, at least, the skits and characters they try to portray may be funny in retrospect—but they are really just a big, vintage slice of the lackluster. Tucked right in next to your cool Wayne’s World cards, you’re likely to find a random black and white still of Jane Curtin doing … some role … you can’t quite remember.

7. Desert Storm

Desert Storm Cards

Wait, trading cards for a war? It sure seems a bit, well, strange, but back in the 1960s, there was even a trading card set for “The Men of the Green Berets.” There have also been card runs for World War II and Vietnam. That doesn’t sound very stealth, does it? Here’s hoping no potential combatants ever pick up their own set of the Desert Storm cards, because they’ll soon learn what a Tomahawk missile looks like in flight or what a “carpet bombing” is.

8. The X-Files

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The truth is out there and it’s also totally on one of the many trading card packs issued for the enduring Fox television classic. The “super premium” sets included character cards and creepy scenes from the actual show, a nice double dose of the fun and the informative (just like the show itself!).

9. New Kids on the Block

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It doesn’t matter who your favorite Kid on said Block was, if you were an NKOTB fan, you had a pack or two of Topps very classy trading card sets. The wax packs featured glossy concert pics, nifty stills (just imagine the fashion), and a sticker to boot. The backs of the cards also included everything you’d want to know about the Kids – like favorite color and full name. What is Donnie Wahlberg’s middle initial? Turn to the cards, kid.

10. Barbie

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Not every trading card set can be both very cool and very informative, but Mattel’s run of Barbie cards back in 1990 managed to straddle that line with nothing but style. Reminiscent of sports trading cards, each of the 300 available in the set featured a special Barbie doll on the front (including plenty of vintage options) and a bevy of fun facts on the back to feed the obsession of even the most hardcore Barbie fan. The doll maker has done a few other rounds of cards, but the 1991 run is unquestionably the most classic (and classy!).

11. Gremlins 2

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While the first film is clearly the far superior pick when it comes to movie-watching, the trading cards for the Gremlins sequel are surprisingly far better than the originals. After all, they are the only set to feature multiple cards centering on a scene that sees film critic Leonard Maltin getting overcome by angry mogwai. A must-have for any movie fan.

12. Tron

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Even a high-tech film like Tron can translate to the trading card medium—especially when some of the wax packs came with snazzy lightcycle stickers to paste all over your stuff. Even better? The cards include tips for winning the Tron video game, so maybe now is the time to pull out your old amusements and get cracking. You can finally win!

13. Garbage Pail Kids

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It’s impossible to talk about the trading card craze of the '80s and '90s without mentioning the multiple runs of Garbage Pail Kids cards, a Cabbage Patch Kids send-up that got its start as a trading card set. These things were everywhere, and whole boxes of them are still available online, at thrift shops, and around flea markets. If you’re a child of the '80s or '90s whose favorite form of humor is “gross-out,” the odds are high that the kids o’ the pails helped get you there.

14. Back to the Future II

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Is there a more classic wax pack than a Back to Future II wax pack? It has it all—the cards, the sticker, the bubble gum, all wrapped up in a handy package that assures you that you’re buying a “hit movie!” branded item. The series featured scenes from the movie, snappy lines, and even nifty numbering to keep them straight. (Don’t underestimate the power of numbered cards in a film about the complications of time travel.)

15. Jurassic Park

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Any proven fan of the best cinema of the nineties still remembers Jurassic Park with tremendous fondness, and Topps’ multiple card sets reflect that perfectly. No, really, there’s some actual reflection here—at least when it comes to the random “action hologram” cards that popped in some sets. While not everyone got them, the wax packs still came with plenty of movie scenes, character cards, and behind-the-scenes peeks to feed a dino-sized hunger.

16. Cyndi Lauper

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We may never know exactly why Cyndi Lauper got her own 33-card set of trading pieces back in 1985, but they sure as shooting exist for public consumption, and they’ve got the colors to prove it. These things are bright, though you wouldn’t know it from their understated pink, black, and white packages. Inside was a nice surprise for fans—beyond just gum and cards, there were three stickers. Fun indeed!

17. Indiana Jones

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There are a shocking number of Indiana Jones trading card sets out there, but the first run from Topps is still the best. It’s a classic wax pack—hand-drawn package, gum, stickers, cards—and that’s nothing to sniff at (or whip at, really). Packed with movie scenes and character cards, what more could you ask for? Fine, you could always round out your collection with some Raiders and Temple of Doom cards, if that sort of thing fills up your cup.

18. Howard the Duck

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Howard the Duck may now be remembered as one of the worst comic book movies ever made, but its wax pack proudly proclaims that the cards inside are from a “new hit movie!” Sure, you weirdo little duck, that’s just fine. Enjoy the lie. (You can also enjoy the standard movie cards, sticker, and gum, though we don’t recommend trying to blow bubbles with a beak.)

19. Creature Feature

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The Creature Feature collection may be best known for its 1973 run, but the movie monsters got a fresh spin in a 1980 set, too. The classic baddies—think Frankenstein’s monster, the Mummy, and the Phantom of the Opera—got the big pack treatment with the Topps cards. Each package included one sticker, one piece of bubble gum, and 12 photo cards. It’s okay to scream about this one—even if it’s partially out of terror.

20. E.T.

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Sadly, these guys did not come packaged with Reese’s Pieces—the wax packs got the standard bubble gum treatment. Crammed with ten cards and one sticker, the E.T. packs held lots of good stuff (a card depicting “Michael’s Farewell” might still make you cry) and plenty of filler (such as the card showing a confused E.T. standing around open-mouthed, punched up by the caption “Stranded!”). Brilliant stuff, really, but a must-own for any Spielberg fan. Reach out and touch them.

21. Return to Oz

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Hopefully the terror of this bizarre Wizard of Oz follow-up has finally worn off, and now you can actually enjoy having a pack or two of these cards in your presence. Wait, no, no, still too soon. Pumpkinheaded nightmares ahoy, visions of “wheelers” dancing in our heads, and a strong desire to get back to Kansas—all our warning signs that you might be checking out one of these wax packs right now. Run.

22. Beetlejuice

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The beloved Beetlejuice spawned its own wacky animated series that, in turn, spawned an adorably strange set of trading cards. While the packs didn’t provide many actual trading cards—five per pack—they did come with one very impressive glow-in-the-dark sticker. It’s the perfect thing to affix to your copy of the “Handbook for the Recently Deceased”!

23. Nintendo Game Pack

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What a racket! The five-card packs—three scratch-off game pieces and two stickers—were aimed at both people who had Nintendos (they included gameplay tips) and people who didn’t (why would you be in need of a scratcher to play Mario if you had a system at home?). Sure, it sounds brilliant in theory (at least for the team at Nintendo), but what were buyers to do with the scratched off cards once they were, well, scratched off? Those things only had one life.

24. Dune

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The 1984 Dune big screen adaptation may have been a bit of a bust, but the associated Fleer cards are still very cool pieces of movie memorabilia. No matter how modern the film itself tried to be, these wax packs are nothing short of a perfectly classic example of the standard set—ten cards, one sticker, one piece of gum. Revolutionary.

25. Pac-Man

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Though the 1980 run of Pac-Man trading cards is guilty of some of the worst wax pack crimes—rub-off games, too few cards, a reliance on knowing the source material—it is ultimately saved by one key element. Cute stickers. Really cute stickers. Little munching Pac-Men, scary ghosts, funny lines—and you get two per pack. Worth it.

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15 Things You Might Not Know About One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
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Milos Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which premiered on this day in 1975, won critical acclaim, box office success, and a shelf full of Oscars. But even if you love the complex exploration of life inside a 1960s psychiatric hospital, there are a few things you may not know about its behind-the-scenes story. 

1. CUSTOMS NEARLY DOOMED THE PROJECT. 

Despite the middling success of the 1963 stage adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel starring Kirk Douglas, Hollywood legend Douglas was dead set on adapting the story for the screen. Douglas contacted Czech director Miloš Forman about the project, promising to send Forman a copy of the book for his perusal. 

Douglas mailed Forman the novel, but the package was confiscated by Czechoslovakian customs and never reached the director. Unaware of the parcel’s fate, the filmmaker resented Douglas’ broken promise, and Douglas thought Forman rude for never bothering to confirm receipt of the novel. It took a decade to sort the mess out, and things only cleared up when Kirk’s son Michael Douglas took another crack at production and contacted Forman once more. 

2. ONE STUDIO WANTED TO CHANGE THE ENDING.

When producers were shopping the picture to studios, 20th Century Fox was interested, but with a catch. Fox would distribute the film, but only if the filmmakers would agree to rewrite the ending; the studio wanted McMurphy to live. Producers Saul Zaentz and Michael Douglas wisely considered this a deal breaker, and United Artists eventually distributed the film.

3. JACK NICHOLSON AND LOUISE FLETCHER WERE NOT THE FIRST CHOICES FOR THEIR CHARACTERS. 


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When Kirk Douglas spearheaded the first attempt to bring One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to life on the big screen in the 1960s, he had intended to play the Randle Patrick McMurphy role himself, just as he had on stage. When production began in earnest 10 years later, Douglas was too old for the part, leaving director Forman to consider and contact the likes of Gene Hackman, Marlon Brando, and (his personal favorite) Burt Reynolds before finally settling on Jack Nicholson.

A number of different actresses were considered for the role of Nurse Ratched, the film’s central antagonist, as well: Anne Bancroft, Colleen Dewhurst, Geraldine Page, and Angela Lansbury were all in the running, before Louise Fletcher ultimately got the part. 

4. LOUISE FLETCHER CHANGED FORMAN’S VIEW ON THE CHARACTER. 

Forman’s original view of Nurse Ratched was as “the personification of evil,” a characterization that made Louise Fletcher a bad fit for the part in the filmmaker’s mind. As Fletcher pressed for the role, Forman’s perspective of Ratched evolved: “I slowly started to realize that it would be much more powerful if it’s not this visible evil,” he said. “That she’s only an instrument of evil. She doesn’t know that she’s evil. She, as a matter of fact, believes that she’s helping people.” This new take on the character paved the way for the official casting of Fletcher. 

5. SEVERAL OF THE FILM’S STARS WERE NOT ACTORS. 

Following the production team’s decision to use Oregon State Hospital as its shooting location, the producers hit on the idea of casting facility superintendent Dr. Dean Brooks as Dr. John Spivey, the doctor charged with assessing R. P. McMurphy’s psychological health. Brooks agreed to play what turned out to be a sizable role, though it would be the only acting job he would ever take. He also helped secure employment for many of his hospital’s patients as extras and crew members during production. 

Mel Lambert, another non-actor, was wrangled to play the harbormaster who protested McMurphy’s ad hoc fishing trip. What’s more, Lambert—a respected area businessman who had a strong relationship with the local Native American community—introduced the production team to Will Sampson, the 6-foot-5-inch-tall Muscogee painter who would make his acting debut as the major character Chief Bromden. 

6. THE STARS LIVED ON THE WARD DURING PRODUCTION. 


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All of the actors who played patients actually lived on the Oregon State Hospital psychiatric ward throughout production. The men personalized their sleeping quarters, spent their days on campus “get[ting] a sense of what it was to be hospitalized” (as actor Vincent Schiavelli put it), and interacting with real psychiatric patients. 

7. MANY SCENES WERE SHOT WITHOUT THE ACTORS’ KNOWLEDGE. 

To complete this realistic immersion, Forman led his performers in unscripted group therapy sessions in which he directed the actors to develop their characters’ psychological maladies organically. He would often capture footage of the actors, both in and out of character, without explicitly mentioning that the cameras were rolling. The film’s final cut includes a shot of a visibly irritated Fletcher reacting to a piece of direction fed to her by Forman. 

8. FORMAN AND NICHOLSON HAD A TREMENDOUS SPAT OVER THE FILM’S PLOT. 

While the intensity of the turmoil varies from rumor to rumor, reports from the set were consistent on one fact: The star refused to speak with Forman for a large chunk of the production process. Nicholson took issue with Forman’s suggestion that the hospital inmates would be an unruly bunch upon the initial arrival of McMurphy. Instead, the actor insisted that such disavowal of the medical staff’s authority should only begin after the introduction of McMurphy into their lives and routines. 

Although the version of the story that we see in the film today is more closely associated with Nicholson’s alleged reading, suggesting that Forman ultimately took his advice, Nicholson refused to interact with his director from that point forward. When the star and Forman needed to communicate with one another, they used cinematographer Bill Butler as a middleman. 

9. DANNY DEVITO CREATED AN IMAGINARY FRIEND DURING PRODUCTION. 


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Emotionally strained by a demanding shooting schedule that kept him 3000 miles from his future wife, Rhea Perlman, DeVito developed the coping mechanism of an imaginary friend with whom he would have nightly chats. Concerned that his own sanity might be slipping away, DeVito sought the advice of Dr. Brooks, who assured him that there was no reason to worry as long as DeVito could still identify the character as fictional. 

10. THE CREW WAS WORRIED ABOUT THE SANITY OF ONE CAST MEMBER.

While Dr. Brooks had no concerns about DeVito, he echoed the rest of the cast and crew’s apprehensions about the psychological state of Sydney Lassick, who played Charlie Cheswick. Lassick exhibited increasingly unpredictable and emotionally erratic behavior during his time in character, a pattern that culminated in a tearful outburst during his observation of the final scene between Nicholson and Sampson. Lassick became so overwhelmed during the scene that he had to be removed from set. 

11. FLETCHER TOOK OFF HER CLOTHES IN ORDER TO GET FRIENDLIER WITH HER CO-STARS.

Envious of the camaraderie her male costars had forged, and hoping to dispel any associations with her tyrannical character, Fletcher surprised the cast one evening by ripping off her dress on the crowded ward. Years later, the actress laughed about the display, saying, “‘I’ll show them I’m a real woman under here, you know.’ I think that must have been what I was thinking.” 

12. THE FISHING TRIP SCENE BARELY MADE IT INTO THE FILM. 

Initially, Forman was vocally opposed to including a scene that took place beyond the grounds of the hospital out of concerns that a temporary liberation would undercut the dramatic force of the film’s ending. In the end, Zaentz convinced Forman to shoot the fishing trip sequence. It was the final scene filmed and the only piece shot out of chronological order. 

One thing to look for in the fishing scene: A very subtle Anjelica Huston cameo. Huston, who was dating Nicholson during production, has a nonspeaking role as one of the spectators on the dock as McMurphy and his fellow patients steer the stolen boat back to shore. 


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13. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST WAS THE FIRST FILM TO WIN ALL “BIG FIVE” ACADEMY AWARDS IN 41 YEARS.

Not since 1934's It Happened One Night swept the Oscars had a film walked away with awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest took home the lot, with Nicholson and Fletcher winning the top acting awards. The feat would not be matched again for another 16 years, with Silence of the Lambs becoming the next (and last to date) movie to earn the distinction. 

14. THE FILM ENJOYED ONE OF THE LONGEST THEATRICAL RUNS IN MOVIE HISTORY. 

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was revered worldwide, but Swedish viewers developed an especially soft spot for the film. Cuckoo’s Nest remained a regular option for Swedish moviegoers through 1987—11 years after its initial release. 

15. KESEY REFUSED TO SEE THE FILM (BUT MAY HAVE BY ACCIDENT). 

The poster child for the “the book was better” movement, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest author Kesey disapproved of a big screen adaptation of his novel as soon as he found out that the filmmakers had abandoned the use of Chief Bromden as the story’s narrator. Kesey never intended to see the movie, but one story says he inadvertently caught a few moments during a bout of channel surfing one evening. Once Kesey realized what he was watching, he promptly changed stations.

According to fellow novelist Chuck Palahniuk (who has famously praised director David Fincher’s adaptation of his novel Fight Club, plot changes and all), Kesey once stated privately that he did not care for the material.

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The Origins of 10 Thanksgiving Traditions
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There's a lot more to Thanksgiving than just the turkey and the Pilgrims. And though most celebrations will break out the cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, there are a number of other customs that you might be less aware of (and some that are becoming too ubiquitous to miss).

1. THE TURKEY TROT FOOTRACE

Many towns host brisk morning runs to lessen the guilt about the impending feast (distances and times vary from race to race, but the feel-good endorphins are universal). The oldest known Turkey Trot footrace took place in Buffalo, New York, and has been happening every year since 1896. Nearly 13,000 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 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 to 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving up by a week. In '39, Thanksgiving, traditionally held on the last Thursday of November, fell on the 30th. Since enough people would 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 at a time when he was trying hard to pull Americans out of the Great Depression. It didn't entirely go over well though—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. Today, we've basically split the difference—Thanksgiving is held on the fourth Thursday of November, regardless of whether that's the last Thursday of the month or not.

4. THE PRESIDENTIAL TURKEY PARDON

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The story goes that since at least 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 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 in online polls; the paired turkeys (the one you see in pictures and a backup) have gotten creative names such as Stars and Stripes, Biscuit and Gravy, Marshmallow and Yam, Flyer and Fryer, Apple and Cider, and Honest and Abe last year.

5. THANKSGIVING PARADES

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Everyone knows about the Macy's Parade, but for a more historically accurate parade, check out America's Hometown Thanksgiving Parade in Plymouth. 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. There are nationally recognized Drum and Bugle Corps, re-enactment units from every period of American history, and military marching units. And military bands play music honoring the men and women who serve in each branch: the Army, the Navy, the Marines, the Air Force, and the Coast Guard.

6. BLACK FRIDAY

Black Friday, of course, is the day-after sales extravaganza that major (and minor) retailers participate in. 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 typically, it's hardly ever the busiest, though it typically ranks somewhere in the top 10. The busiest shopping day of the year is usually the Saturday before Christmas.

7. CYBER MONDAY

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 at the time reported an increase in sales on that particular day, and as online shopping has continued to grow and become more convenient, retailers have scheduled their promotions to follow suit.

8. BUY NOTHING DAY

And in retaliation for Black Friday, there's Buy Nothing Day. To protest consumerism, many 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.

9. FOOTBALL

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It's a common sight across the U.S.: parents, cousins, aunts, and uncles passed out on the couch watching football after dinner. 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 when 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.

10. NATIONAL DOG SHOW

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 Lions or Cowboys, though.

A version of this story originally published in 2008.

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