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Why Do We Do These 10 Weird Things Every Thanksgiving?

It’s turkey—and whatever the hell else—time.

‘Tis that time of year, folks. Crunchy leaves. Ornate pumpkins. Decorative yard flags. Just a few observations from your resident, perennially frustrated travel writer, who has also decided it’s time we talked about the following traditions surrounding the holiday where we all gather to give thanks. Thanks!

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PHOTO: Vintagepix/Shutterstock
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Stuffing the Turkey

Why do we stuff that giant bird we’re told is standard Thanksgiving fare? Well, the art of stuffing (or “dressing,” if you prefer) can roughly be traced back to the Romans, though it’s not really known how or why the method was adopted for Turkey Day. Did the pilgrims have stuffing? No idea! There are a few things we *have* learned about it though. Stuffing your holiday protein could increase your chances of getting salmonella poisoning, as bread is porous and, when not cooked properly, meat juices filled with bacteria could be absorbed by the bread and be very much alive when consumed. Granted, the USDA recommends cooking it outside the turkey. Also, it’s cumbersome to prepare and your turkey could turn out dry or mushy.

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PHOTO: Sheila Fitzgerald/Shutterstock
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Turkey Bowling

I’m not quite sure what this game says about our society at large, but it’s still very much around. The game was allegedly invented in 1988 in a grocery store in Newport, New Jersey, where an aisle served as a lane and a frozen turkey(s) served as the bowling ball(s). The “inventor” of the game, James Harris, a former Los Angeles Rams cheerleader, and Chippendale’s dancer, said he happened on the “sport” by accident and, at the time, a pop bottle served as a “pin.”

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PHOTO: rblfmr/Shutterstock
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Black Friday

It only makes sense that we (unofficially) dedicate a day to capitalism as well, yeah? So why not make it the day after Thanksgiving, call it “Black Friday,” and see how far we can mentally and physically push thousands and thousands of retail workers until they make good on their employer’s buy-two-get-one-free deal?

I mean, literally—the origin theories concerning Black Friday that have most permeated news cycles involve Wall Street financiers and companies moving from the “red” (negative earnings) to the “black” on this day, meaning they’re turning a very large profit. But at what expense?

Chaos. People will be trampled. But, fingers crossed you get your bargain(s)!

 

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PHOTO: mark reinstein/Shutterstock
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The Presidential Turkey Pardon

There are more important things going on at the White House to focus on right now. But, for the purposes of specifically this article, I’ll tell you about the turkey pardon. The event is sponsored by the National Turkey Federation, who has been providing birds to presidents (to eat) since 1947; the group has also spent millions in lobbying efforts since 1998, according to NPR and the Center for Responsive Politics. It wasn’t until JFK spared his turkey in 1963 that the “pardoning” trend caught on and, well, now it’s a thing the president does each year.

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PHOTO: barbsimages/Shutterstock
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Turkey Trot

People tend to get very full on Thanksgiving. The Turkey Trot is an effort to shed some of that pumpkin pie—and whatever other magically delicious dishes your great aunt has up her sleeve—off. The first Trot on record took place in 1896, with six runners on a dirt road in Buffalo, New York. For comparison, one of the largest Trots on record is 2012’s Sacramento race which saw 22,546 participants. A trot phenomenon.

The trots (or, footraces) take place all over the country around Thanksgiving, often involve costumes, and are usually hosted by charities. Here is a list of ones happening this year.

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PHOTO: AMCImagery/Shutterstock
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Weird Side Dishes

Not all families (but a decent chunk of suburban America, I’m betting) encounter off-the-wall chaotic side dishes each year courtesy of your second cousin(s) who knows deep down they can’t really cook, but they just wanted to be nice and show up with something homemade on Thanksgiving. As such, we get dishes like the ones mentioned in this thread. We’re talking “Seafoam Salad” (featuring lime Jell-O and cream cheese), “Dragon Barf” (featuring pistachios and cherries), and “Magic Tomato Soup Cake.” Here’s to experimenting in the kitchen and using Thanksgiving to test said experiments!

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PHOTO: lev radin/Shutterstock
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Thanksgiving Day Parade

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a staple in this country. Why? Look, I’m not normally such a sourpuss, and I hope I’m not coming off that way. But, I can’t help but think that the biggest parade in the world—the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in NYC, which has been televised since 1953—has morphed over the last few decades into The Flashiest Piece of Advertising on The Planet. Maybe it always was? The first Macy’s Day Parade took place in 1924 to celebrate a literal expansion; the new flagship store spanned an entire NYC city block, making it, at the time (allegedly), the “World’s Largest Store.” The intention was not to encourage Thanksgiving Day sales, but rather to get people jazzed about Christmas gifts.

Much like Black Friday, we’re looking at a showcase for curated capitalism, people. This is supposed to be a day of giving thanks!

Fun fact: This year, the parade will be virtual, which is fine, I guess.

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PHOTO: Ana Chang/Shutterstock
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Wishbone

The ritual of breaking the wishbone—which is located between the turkey’s neck and breast—for luck actually comes from an ancient civilization (located in what is now Italy) called the Etruscans. It was passed on, throughout the ages, eventually making its way to English colonists who brought it to their new country (America).

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PHOTO: iyd39/Shutterstock
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Thanksgiving-Centric Eating Competitions

Listen, I eat a ton on Thanksgiving. But not quickly/competitively! Props to those who can though, because, from this “Turkey Testicle Eating Contest” a couple of years ago to the annual pumpkin pie-eating challenges to a flashy Wild Turkey-sponsored competition where a contestant ate an entire turkey in 10 minutes, entering these takes guts (literally and figuratively). There’s no shortage of eccentric Thanksgiving-centric eating competitions to get you jazzed about feasts that accompany the holiday, and that’s something to celebrate(?).

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PHOTO: gerasimov_foto_174/Shutterstock
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Watching Football

It’s a thing, I get it. I mean, sports are entwined in America’s DNA and most mainstream matches involve getting people together to cheer on teams, so a living room full of family members will suffice. But what about those who need help preparing in the kitchen? Or setting the table? Or chatting up your rebellious aunt for life advice? At the risk of sounding like an old man yelling at clouds, we always have our faces in front of screens, so is it possible for Thanksgiving to be a day devoid of them? Is it possible to have entertainment solely in the form of each other’s company? Maybe not. But does it have to be football? Netflix’s Nailed It! seems especially appropriate.

2 Comments
M
markferguson4325 December 3, 2020

Thanksgiving football used to be huge. Many more colleges played on Thanksgiving. Many of those games ended when Division I FCS, Division II and Division III added playoffs. Similarly many high schools played Thanksgiving until state high school playoffs came around. 

W
wandered November 26, 2020

It is NOT a Macy's day parade,  it is a Thanksgiving day parade.  There is no such thing as Macy's day.

There is enough rampant capitalism in this country that we do no need to conscript our day of thanks into a day of a department store.