The Truth Behind Thanksgiving Traditions and How They’re Changing Today

Shoot Date: 
Wednesday, November 22, 2017

If you’re like most Americans, you’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving with big dinner turkey and family gathering. And a day off from work. But it wasn’t always that way. And it may not be that way much longer. Here with what everyone should know about Thanksgiving is Shari O

We’ve all heard the story about how the Pilgrims came over on the Mayflower and celebrated the very first Thanksgiving with Native American Indians. But what do the elementary school history books leave out about that story?


  • First?
  • Friends?
  • Context?

There are actually many historical accounts of Thanksgiving celebrations which predate the Pilgrims and the American Indians. For example, Spanish explorers celebrated a giving of thanks for fruitful harvests and successful travels around the same time of you right here in Florida (St Augustine to be exact). Even those celebrations are predated by Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans who feasted in tribute to the gods after a good Harvest and the ancient Jews who celebrated the harvest festival of Sukkot. In fact, even native Americans celebrated in this way long before Europeans arrived on the shores. The idea that Thanksgiving was all about the friendship between the settlors and the natives is also not exactly accurate. Back then there were much more religious undertones. The feast was more about thanking God than just thanking friendly natives. And there are folks who take issue with the Pilgrim version, including some Native American Indians, who feel that portraying relations between the Pilgrims and American Indians as a big party is deceptive and not contextually accurate, as it ignores the historical bloody conflicts many Indians had with European settlers. Remember, Thanksgiving has not always been a national holiday, so there’s been plenty of room for reshaping the facts to fit what sounds best.

So at what point did Thanksgiving become an official holiday?


  • Lincoln-Roosevelt
  • Parades
  • Presidential Pardon
  • Volunteering

President Abraham Lincoln is actually the one who declared Thanksgiving an official national holiday to help heal the wounds of our National after the civil war. Back then it was celebrated on the last day of each November. In 1939 Franklin Roosevelt moved it up a week in an effort to increase Depression era retail sales and folks who didn’t like that nick named it Franksgiving. So in 1941 he signed a bill officially making it the fourth Thursday in November. Since that’s when some of the other traditions, we often take for granted and assume have always been a part of the holiday, have evolved, such as Parades, beginning with Macy’s back in 1924 which today attracts as many as 3 million people along the 2.5 mile route. Around the 1950s the tradition of the president pardoning a turkey began. And volunteering has become a tradition for many. In the 1970s protests began emerging against the fact that Thanksgiving ignores the conflict and horrific treatment Native Indians had to face.

How else have modern time changed the holiday?


  • Black Friday
  • Frozen Dinners
  • Celebrate Earlier

Among the biggest recent changes is the advent of Black Friday and shopping mania. But another interesting angle is the way the holiday has changed us. For example we can thank Thanksgiving for frozen dinners. Back in 1953 Swanson overestimated frozen turkeys to the time of 26 tons. Their solution was to slice it up and create TV dinners. And more recently, folks a beginning to celebrate early. That’s because flight are a third less. Less traffic. Easier to get time off. 75% of retailer start marketing sooner compared to only 3 years ago. 16% say celebrating early. Another 13% say would.

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