“N[o] citizen of the United States should refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day.”
– Alexander Hamilton
As the leaves change color this Fall, everyone’s attention turns to Halloween and the frenzied activities it brings, but once we’ve all binged on our candy and worn our best costumes, it’s time for a break. Thanksgiving didn’t originate as the perfect time to unwind and reconnect with family, but from the pumpkin spice lattes to the pumpkin pies, Thanksgiving has become everything peaceful and delicious about Fall.
Thanksgiving means something different to each of us, and it has certainly evolved over its long lifetime. Those of us who have gone through the United States school systems know the sanitized version of the origin of Thanksgiving with its picture-perfect vision of unity, an image which perfectly embodies the mythos of Thanksgiving today, but doesn’t actually reflect the realities of colonial conflicts. However, here we will be focusing on the nature of the holiday itself.
Contrary to popular belief, the Pilgrims did not create or standardize the holiday of Thanksgiving. They did host what is considered the original Thanksgiving meal, though it wasn’t known by that name yet. They held an informal harvest festival, common at the time, and intended the event to exist only once rather than become an annual occurrence.
In fact, Thanksgiving stems from a couple other traditions as well. The Puritan “Day of Thanksgiving” was a religious day focused entirely on the Scripture and spent in church, and the secular tradition of days of thanksgiving were often used to celebrate war victories. Both of these early thanksgiving traditions fed into the development of our contemporary version.
During the colonial period, New England blended these three traditions together. The practice began to spread beyond New England as the colonies grew and eventually gained independence, and by the 1840s most states celebrated Thanksgiving in some capacity. The tradition remained most prominent in New England, while other regions celebrated sporadically and on different days.
Becoming a National Holiday
The first Thanksgiving Proclamations were given by the Continental Congress during the Revolutionary War. Once the war ended, George Washington gave the first Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation to the nation, creating a standard practice among presidents. You can read more about Thanksgiving Proclamations at the Pilgrim Hall Museum.
Despite its presidential recognition, Thanksgiving only became established as a national holiday a couple hundred years later under President Lincoln as a way of bringing the country back together after the Civil War.
Turkey Eating and Pardoning
While the Pilgrims did not consider turkey the centerpiece of their historic meal, turkeys and other wildfowl did appear on the table from the beginning, although accounts only mentioned the birds in passing.
By the 1850s turkeys became a standard at many Thanksgiving tables in New England, but it took longer to become a main part of Thanksgiving in other regions of the country. Today the turkey has become a staple of the holiday. As a symbol of the United States’ oldest holiday, the turkey now rivals the bald eagle as a representation of the country in its importance. It is certainly easier to find turkey decorations than bald eagle ones.
To any outsider the pardoning of a turkey would sound ludicrous giving a free pass to an animal as if it is a hardened criminal, but it remains a standard of Thanksgiving tradition. Every year without fail the president gives a turkey the gift of life. The tradition of pardoning turkeys began in the 1940s with presidents occasionally pardoning turkeys. It didn’t become an annual tradition until George H. W. Bush’s time in office.
Turkeys are now bred specifically for pardoning, so they can tolerate the attention of crowds and flash photography better than normal turkeys. The pardoned turkeys also receive special names, ranging from patriotic titles to honorable traits to types of Thanksgiving food. Food names include, Tater and Tot from 2016 and Mac and Cheese. Other stars include Courage, Liberty, Cobbler, Biscuits, Gravy, Stars, Stripes, May, and Flower.
Pardoned turkeys from 2005 to 2009 gained free tickets to Disneyland or Disneyworld and served as official turkeys in the Disney Thanksgiving parades. Turkeys from other years were not so lucky and ended up at farms without the same flash of Disney fame. However, it is doubtful the turkeys were too concerned with their personal fame.
The Tradition of Cigars
Since the creation of cigars, they’ve always been used for times of celebration. Thanksgiving is no different. It is said Christopher Columbus brought back ideas for cigars by copying Native Americans after his journey to the Americas. Cigars have been a staple of traditional Thanksgiving tables as an easy activity to share.
Join in on the holiday spirit by smoking a cigar to relax after the large meal. It’s an easy activity for the adults of the family to bond over, resting together, and can serve as a nice in between break between the main meal and desserts.
Customizable labels can commemorate a family gathering and bring some added class to a fine meal. Custom Cigars offers affordable personalization options with easy to use templates and personal attention to unique designs. Continue the long-standing tradition of the after-dinner cigar by beginning your own tradition with your family on this Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving Tips and Tricks
If you have time, start your Thanksgiving food prep the night before, so you don’t end up too stressed on the actual day. Leave the actual day for family especially any cooking that can be easily done by the group to give you more time with your loved ones.
Take a break between dinner and dessert by taking a light family walk. Walk around the neighborhood and really appreciate the holiday as a break from the hustle and bustle of every day life.
If you have any youngsters in your company, think about investing in some arts and crafts to keep them occupied during the cooking parts of the day or the meal if the adults in your family enjoy lingering over their food. Everyone loves a good hand turkey.
Not all families live close together, and people can’t always take the time to travel for Thanksgiving. Here is where modern technology can either be your best friend or worst enemy depending on your family relationships. If anyone you love can’t make it to your Thanksgiving in person, you can call them for a quick chat while cooking or even put them on video at their own seat at the table.