Each year, we partake in Thanksgiving without giving the roots of its traditions a second thought. If you think about it for a moment, why do we eat what we eat, watch what we watch on TV, and do what we do on Thanksgiving Day? Here is a little history behind some of our most common Thanksgiving traditions.
Why turkey? Why not roast beef? Or lobster? Or rabbit? The origin of turkey being the star of the Thanksgiving show can be traced back to documentation authored by the Plymouth Colony Governer, William Bradford. He stated that wild turkeys were featured at what's widely considered to be the first Thanksgiving in 1621. But, it wasn't until the 1850s that turkey became a Thanksgiving staple, and continues to be so today.
Why do we eat cranberry sauce, stuffing, and green bean casserole? Almost universally, people serve these side dishes alongside the turkey. But, why? Cranberries are included because they were an important food source to the Native Americans who attended the first Thanksgiving meal, so it's thought that cranberries were likely included at that meal. As for stuffing, or dressing as the Victorians renamed it, it's been eaten for centuries, and has simply abided in its popularity. And green bean casserole? That became a popular Thanksgiving side relatively recently…the 1950s to be exact. It was invented by Campbell's test kitchen and quickly became an American favorite.
Why do we eat Thanksgiving dinner midday instead of in the evening? It's a simple matter of logistics. Family members usually have to travel far and wide to get to the host's house, so eating earlier allows plenty of time for them to return home at a reasonable hour afterwards. Also, that gives the host the rest of the day to clean up the resulting mess after all the feasting.
Why do we give thanks on Thanksgiving? Tracing back to the original Thanksgiving dinner of 1621, Thanksgiving was a day of appreciation for the previous year's harvest. But, over the years it became a holiday to commemorate all that we're generally thankful for in our lives.
Why do we get up on Thanksgiving morning and watch parades on TV? If you don't watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, you likely watch, attend, or participate in a local one. The Macy's parade is a three-hour event that starts at 9 AM EST annually. The first one was in 1924, and it's been televised each year starting in 1948. To the delight of young viewers, Santa Claus caps off the lineup and officially ushers in the Christmas season.
Knowing the reasons why we celebrate Thanksgiving traditions can make them all the more meaningful. Their history is something to be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving!