HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Thanksgiving is an American holiday most love. However, many are unsure of the true origins of the holiday’s most cherished traditions.
Turkey. Stuffing. Football. Thanksgiving staples today have morphed into a new bird of its own. Taking a walk around Downtown Harrisburg, many were quick to explain why Thanksgiving is their favorite holiday but didn’t know its history.
In school, we’re taught that Thanksgiving was a feast involving the Pilgrims and Native Americans at Plymouth Rock in 1621. The first harvest celebration was a three-day affair, which included games and hunting.
The first meal did not involve turkey, potatoes, or even pumpkin pie. Instead, historians believe fish, lobster, goose, and venison were eaten with corn and barley.
While some historians believe George Washington declared the nation’s first Thanksgiving in 1789, it wasn’t until Oct. 3, 1863 when Abraham Lincoln declared the first national day of thanks on the fourth Thursday of November.
Many don’t know the true hero of Thanksgiving as we know it is magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale. After reading the “Dairy Life of a Pilgrim”, she began lobbying in 1827 by writing articles in publications and letters to lawmakers, pushing that Americans should celebrate this day of unity. Hale also published recipes for turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie for her dream Thanksgiving dinner, which are still holiday staples today.
In 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt moved up Thanksgiving a week early to give retailers an extra week of shopping following the Great Depression. After some backlash, in 1941 he made it a fixed national holiday as Abe intended.
Turkeys really do have a connection to the country. While turkeys are native to North America, European explorers shipped the turkeys overseas. Turkish merchants hawked the Guinea hen-looking fowl to English and naturally called the birds “turkeys”.
Shakespeare around 1601 used the word in “Twelfth Night”, the earliest documented term for the bird.
Male turkeys are called “toms” and gobble and female turkeys are called “hens” and cackle. The male’s red skin on the neck is called a “wattle” and the flap of skin across the beak is called a “snood”. They can also change colors depending on his mating mood.
There is some debate on which U.S. President pardoned the first turkey. Some historians said John F. Kennedy pardoned a turkey but didn’t do it every year. Lincoln was said to pardon a Christmas turkey. Most believe Truman did one for Thanksgiving, but his presidential library states there are no documented records of this.
George H. W. Bush began the annual ritual in 1989. In 2016, President Barack Obama pardoned “Tater” and “Tot”.
Football on Thanksgiving began in 1869 in Philadelphia between two area cricket clubs. Both teams are believed to have had football members from Princeton and Rutgers, who played the first-known football game two weeks prior.
When the National Football League began in 1920, there were six games played on Thanksgiving Day. Lions owner G.A. Richards continued the tradition in 1934 as a sales gimmick and the team has played nearly every year since.
In 1966, the Dallas Cowboys jumped at a chance to host a Thanksgiving Day game in the organization’s 17th season in hopes of gaining exposure. After hiatuses in 1975 and 1977, the Cowboys have played ball on Turkey Day ever since.
Go and grab a second helping of knowledge.