Historic Happenings: Unpacking Turkey Day Traditions

Historic Happenings: Unpacking Turkey Day Traditions

Happy Thanksgiving, Trenton! Whether you’re hanging back in the Capital City or traveling to see loved ones all over the nation, we hope you’re spending your holiday kicking back, feasting, and making wonderful memories with those who mean the most. Each family’s Thanksgiving is going to be a bit different, each bringing their own festive flare and fun to the mix. However, it’s the traditions that we share that bring our communities together during our holiday celebrations. Today, let’s take a stroll through Thanksgivings of years past and find out more about the story behind many of our favorite holiday traditions.

When we think of Thanksgiving, the first thing that pops into most of our minds is the turkey. But how did this bird because the unofficial mascot of this autumnal celebration? As it turns out, the answer is simpler than you may imagine. In medieval Europe, it was customary for a fowl to be prepared and served for feasts and gatherings. At the very first Thanksgiving celebration, records indicate that the fowl the Pilgrims prepared may have been turkey, although there is a chance that either duck or goose was served instead. By the turn of the 19th century, turkey became a popular meal centerpiece as they were large, plentiful, and accessible to families throughout the nation. As turkey grew in popularity in American feasts, President Lincoln made it official in 1863 when he declared Thanksgiving a national holiday, designating roasted turkey as the celebratory feast.

Another common centerpiece in our Thanksgiving spread is cranberry sauce. Whether you’re team canned or team homemade, this delightful spread is often a staple of our Thanksgiving feasts. But how did this berry make its way onto all of our tables? Cranberries are native to the Northeast, making them a plentiful resource for the nation’s first settlers. While the first Thanksgiving may not have featured cranberry sauce the way we know and love it today, cranberries served a critical role for the Wampanoag tribe, who used the fruit for medicine, dyes, food, and more. Research shows that of the 400 million pounds of cranberries sold each year, over 20% are consumed the week of Thanksgiving! And this is wonderful news for those of us here in New Jersey, as the Garden State is one of the largest exporters of cranberries in the world!

If you aren’t here for the food on Thanksgiving, perhaps you’re all about the all-day football. No matter which team you root for, there’s nothing quite like kicking back with the family and turning on the big game. Although football on Thursdays is nothing new, there are a few aspects of Thanksgiving football that make the experience unique from the average weeknight game. For the last several decades, two teams, namely the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys, have played almost every Thanksgiving. Although the Lions are at the top of the list for most Thanksgiving games played, they were not a part of the very first Thanksgiving game, which was played on November 25th, 1920. However, there is only one team that has never thrown a snap on Turkey Day: the Jacksonville Jaguars. There’s few things more American than Thanksgiving and football, so it’s no wonder that these traditions have gone hand in hand for over 100 years.

Finally, while we all know Thanksgiving is a late November holiday, its exact date changes year by year. But how did we come up with our system for determining each year’s Turkey Day date? In 1863, Abraham Lincoln declared that Thanksgiving was to be celebrated on the last Thursday of November. Just a few decades later, however, President Theodore Roosevelt shifted the holiday to the third Thursday in November. That change wasn’t too popular, as it would turn out, and we finally settled on the fourth Thursday of November in 1941. These days, Thanksgiving can fall anywhere between November 22nd and November 28th, depending on how the calendar falls that year. We have an extra-early Thanksgiving this year, giving us a few extra days to celebrate the holiday season!

While these treats and traditions are always a fun part of the holiday, the very best part of Thanksgiving is the opportunity to share what we’re grateful for with those we love the most. And when it comes to what the Trenton Daily team is grateful for this year, our readers are at the top of our list. This special day of gratitude and grub will be over before you know it, and we hope this year’s celebration is your best one yet – Happy Thanksgiving!

Turkey Cartoon Images – Browse 49,780 Stock Photos, Vectors, and Video | Adobe Stock


  • https://www.realsimple.com/why-do-we-eat-turkey-on-thanksgiving-6826842#:~:text=Indigenous%20to%20the%20area%20and,sense%20to%20North%20American%20homesteaders.
  • https://www.marthastewart.com/1507703/why-do-we-eat-cranberry-sauce-thanksgiving
  • https://myfox8.com/news/why-do-these-2-nfl-teams-always-play-on-thanksgiving/#:~:text=The%20tradition%20is%20entering%20its,game%2C%20according%20to%20CBS%20Sports.
  • https://www.cbsnews.com/texas/news/tell-me-why-thanksgiving/#:~:text=In%201863%2C%20President%20Abraham%20Lincoln,the%20fourth%20Thursday%20in%20November.

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