Thanksgiving traditions: food, football, family
Probably the most uniquely American holiday is Thanksgiving. It is a multi-faceted holiday with most of its traditions dating back for decades. Yet in many ways, it is the most changed of the American holidays.
Even one of the “newer” additions to the holiday dates back to that first celebration in New England. It is a reach, but the first celebration — which brought together Native Americans and Pilgrims — lasted for three days. In recent years, many businesses are closed on the Friday after Thanksgiving, making it a four-day holiday.
War has been one of the reasons for Thanksgiving celebrations. In 1644 the New Amsterdam Dutch proclaimed a “Thank Day” for the return of soldiers from a war with Connecticut Indians. In 1789, George Washington proclaimed a day of thanks for the successful end of the Revolutionary War. The next proclaimed holiday didn’t happen until 1795. President James Madison set a day aside for both remembrance and thanks for the end of the War of 1812.
Most sources credit President Abraham Lincoln with the long-term recognition of Thanksgiving Day in 1863. All presidents following Abraham set observances of Thanksgiving. While observances were spasmodic in some states, Thanksgiving became a tradition and it finally became an official holiday when Congress passed a joint resolution in 1941, officially setting the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving.
Most of us like the idea of Thanksgiving starting with the Pilgrims and Native Americans in 1623. The Pilgrims were just happy to survive and decided to invite their Native American neighbors to a feast. Many of our traditions observed today have their origins in that initial celebration. These include lots of good food, recreation — including a marksmanship show presented by Myles Standish and some soldiers — and a lot of sporting events including races, shooting contests and wrestling.
One of our modern traditions was missing from the Pilgrims’ celebration. There was no record of turkey being served. In addition, pumpkin and cranberries were probably available in their natural state, one book reported. The meat of the day was venison and oysters. It seems that turkey became a Thanksgiving tradition due to economics. I read that since turkeys were large birds, they could provide more meat to serve larger gatherings.
Sports remain a major part of the Thanksgiving Day celebration. If you look at old newspapers from a century or so ago, you’ll find that football was part of Thanksgiving. In those days, both Bonner Springs and Basehor had “town teams” or squads composed of adults and both communities hosted Thanksgiving Day games. During the 1920s and 1930s, high schools played their biggest rivals on Thanksgiving Day. By the 1950s, high school games were stopped since the holiday was a family event. This, however, didn’t stop holiday games. First, colleges had traditional games and in the 1960s, the NFL provided holiday action.
I think one of the most interesting sporting events I found on Thanksgiving Day was a girls’ high school basketball game between Bonner Springs and Basehor in 1912. We still have high school football on Thanksgiving weekend with the various state championship games.
A new “national sport” is Christmas shopping, which originally opened the Friday after Thanksgiving, known as “Black Friday.” Now, I think Christmas shopping starts in July!
While I enjoy all of the holiday events, especially the family dinner, I sometimes think that the real meaning of the holiday has been forgotten. It is a time to sit back and reflect on the many joys of life. Yes, it is a time to give thanks for the wonderful life we have and all the joys and comforts of living in our modern, convenient world. We need to be thankful for our families and all they mean to us. I could go on and on, but I sincerely hope that with the fun of the day, you’ll remember the real reason and meaning of Thanksgiving.