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The Evolution of Thanksgiving Traditions


Turkey in front of AT&T Stadium. | Image by USA Today Sports

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While Thanksgiving was made a national holiday in 1863, the traditions we practice today have developed over the years.

In the 1800s, the holiday was mainly celebrated by attending church and partaking in a large meal. As time passed, the holiday expanded beyond merely the meal and mass.

In 1924, to celebrate the opening of the 1 million square foot “World’s Largest Store,” Macy’s threw a parade on Thanksgiving morning, hoping to usher in customers for the coming holiday season shopping.

Since the 1950s, the Christmas shopping season has started the day after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday.

The name “Black Friday” has two potential origins. Companies say that it is because after one year of operating at a loss and being “in the red,” on the Friday after Thanksgiving they would come into the black finally, showing profits. The other potential origin is that police called the day Black Friday because of the chaos that often occurs on the frantic shopping day.

The breaking of the wishbone is a much more ancient tradition, dating back to the Ancient Romans and their belief that chickens bring good luck.

When two people pull on it, whoever breaks away with the largest piece is granted a wish. The term “wishbone” was not coined, however until the 1850s.

Watching the Dallas Cowboys play on Thanksgiving has been a tradition since 1966. It started as a way to get extra publicity for the team, as most families are at home on Thanksgiving. This Thanksgiving the Cowboys will be playing the New York Giants at 3:30 p.m.

The now-popular “Friendsgiving” was started in 2007 as an homage to the 90s sitcom Friends. Friendsgiving is often celebrated prior to Thanksgiving and celebrated with friends rather than family. Friendsgiving tends to be a potluck meal with everyone bringing a different dish to share.

Though the tradition of presidents being presented with Thanksgiving turkeys by the National Turkey Federation dates back to 1947, it only became a tradition to formally pardon a bird in 1989 with President George H.W. Bush. Now the tradition has expanded to state governors pardoning turkeys as well.

The popular Turkey Trot started back in 1896 in Buffalo, New York. The YMCA Buffalo Turkey Trot has been going on for 126 years now. It is a way to bring together communities and raise money for the YMCA and its resources. The Dallas YMCA Turkey Trot will be celebrating its 55th anniversary this year.

Many families take part in the tradition of traveling to see family members. According to TSA passenger data, the Sunday after Thanksgiving was the busiest day for flying in 2019 and 2021.

The best days to be at the airport, when it is least crowded, according to Nerdwallet, are Thanksgiving day, the Wednesday after Thanksgiving, and Black Friday. The worst days are the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the day before Thanksgiving, and the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

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