Very Weird Thanksgiving Facts & Traditions

A Belt to Hold You Through the Holidays: 6 Very Weird Thanksgiving Facts & Traditions

It is the best of times, it is the worst of times…it is the beginning of a new holiday season, with all of its stress, madness, fun, and enthusiasm. So, in preparation for the coming celebrations, Otero is arming you for the holiday with the perfect Thanksgiving outfit (comfortable and slimming) and enough bits of peculiar trivia to keep the conversation going, no matter how much Uncle Alfred has had to drink.

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1. Turkeys Pardoned, Turkeys Eaten

In 1947, the Truman administration made a push to conserve American grain for foreign aid campaigns in the wake of WWII, so they encouraged Americans to voluntarily give up meat on Tuesdays and poultry on Thursdays, to minimize the amount of grain fed to animals. For obvious reasons, this created controversy with numerous farmers and ranchers, and the National Turkey Federation decided to respond by publicly gifting president Truman with a live turkey, just in time for Thanksgiving. Being responsibly committed to the cause of not feeding need grain to livestock, history indicates that Truman ate the turkey, and “Poultryless Thursdays” were swapped out for “Eggless Thursdays” in the presidential campaigns.

president truman receiving a turkey from the National Turkey Federation and eating it

The success of their gift inspired the National Turkey Federation to make similarly public gifts to President Eisenhower (who enjoyed his Thanksgiving dinner very much), and President Kennedy, who spared a 55-pound turkey wearing a “Good Eating Mr. President” sign four days before his own assassination. From that point on, the fate of the turkeys vacillated: Johnson (yum!), Nixon (spared some, ate others), Ford and Carter (good eating!). President Reagan was the first to more consistently spare his turkeys, sending them to farms and petting zoos, but it was pressure regarding the Iran Contra affair (over whether he would pardon Lt. Col. Oliver North) that led to his decision to deflect attention from the more serious scandal by presidentially “pardoning” the turkey. That bit of slick political maneuvering became a tradition under President George H.W. Bush, as a public response to animal rights advocacy groups. Since then, all of the presidential turkeys have been named and pardoned—being shared out with universities, farms, and (memorably) Disney World, where two toms served as honorary grand marshals in Disney’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

turkeys at the thanksgiving disney holiday parade

2. Tradition: Bowling with Turkeys

At this point, it’s hard to tell where the tradition started, but “turkey bowling” has become a fund-raising phenomenon across the United States. Elementary schools fling frozen turkeys across the gym to garner food donations for the local pantry. U Wisconsin—Du Lac students have created strict rules for the precise revolutions that a turkey must perform while traversing a grocery aisle (no sliding) to raise funds for an anti-smoking campaign. And turkey bowling has also been customized for family gatherings large and small. Because it seemed like a good idea at the time.

 silly thanksgiving ideas turkey bowling

No one knows precisely where the tradition began, but the unconventional method for tenderizing your holiday bird has even inspired some unlikely musical tributes, including, “Turkey Bowling: The Most Fun You’ve Had with a Turkey, Since Lunch.”

3. Fact(-ish): Ben Franklin & The Turkey

Turkey has been a favorite Thanksgiving tradition in America, being both native to North America, sized for a generous family, and associated with a favorite American myth. According to the story (perpetuated in the rather historically sketchy musical 1776), in the debate over the national symbol. John Adams argued for the bald eagle, Thomas Jefferson preferred the dove, and Ben Franklin voted for the turkey. Although historians point to the fact that Franklins proposal for the symbol included no birds at all, he did write a letter to his daughter, complaining that the bald eagle is a terrible national symbol, being a “Bird of bad moral Character” who steals food from other birds and can be chased off by the tiny King Bird. In contrast, he claims:

… the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with red Coat on.

ben franklin and his stance on the thanksgiving turkey

So, the myth is more of an exaggeration than a lie, but the story of it has become a fact in its own right. Franklin probably would have appreciated the irony.

4. Tradition: The Turkey Trot

Unlike the Fox Trot, a staple of ballroom dance classes world-wide, the Turkey Trot prioritizes neither style nor elegance. But it is an amusing (or alarming) way to anticipate Thanksgiving—with a tribute to the flightless bird that manifests in an early-morning, costumed fun-run designed to burn at least a fraction of the calories you’ll feel validated in eating later that afternoon.

the turkey trot participants

The first documented Turkey Trot was launched in Troy, NY in 1916 with only six runners. Today, the larger Turkey Trots have more than 25,000 participants each. Because most of the races are relatively short (under 5 miles), costumes are strongly encouraged, although some participants seem to be confused about the definition of “turkey.”

turkey trot costumes

As a statistical outlier, the town of Cuero, TX “the turkey capital of America” hosts a Turkey Trot run by actual turkeys, hundreds of which parade through downtown as part of a larger Turkey Fest. But lest you think that this is merely a modern gimmick, it is worth noting that the first Cuero Turkey Trot not only predated the Troy Trot by four years…it had a heck of a lot more participants.

Cuero, TX turkey trot

5. Fact: Evacuation Day & Franksgiving

From the mid-1600s to the late 1800s, Thanksgiving was celebrated locally, according to the harvest and the proclamations of local city and church bodies, but it usually took place shortly before Evacuation Day, a November 25th holiday commemorating the departure of the British soldiers after the conclusion of the American Revolutionary War. Eventually, the two holidays combined (Give thanks! The British are gone!), and Thanksgiving came to be regularly celebrated on the last Thursday of each November, where it came to be known the last major holiday before Christmas. Macy’s Day Parades were introduced in 1924, celebrating the many reasons we have to be thankful and (with very little subtlety) the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. And all was right with the world.

macy's commercializes the holidays

However, responding to the economic strain of the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided that it would be wise to capitalize (pun!) on the association of the end of Thanksgiving with the beginning of an increased shopping season, and so he issued a presidential proclamation that Thanksgiving should be celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November, rather than the last Thursday in November, thus extending the Christmas commercialization. Annoyed that a holiday with both patriotic and religious connotations should be moved for financial reasons, many people resisted the change, dubbing it “Franksgiving” and continuing to celebrate on the last Thursday of November. But within a decade, the majority of people had adapted to the new schedule, including Congress, who passed a measure making the new date official.

6. Fact: Black Friday(s) (Worldwide)

Of all the holidays that seem unlikely to go global, American Thanksgiving would seem to be high on the list—after all, it’s a celebration largely based on the “Thank God we’re physically/politically free from Great Britain” premise. But with the intensive commercialization of the shopping season between late November and Christmas, and the advent of global internet sales and marketing, Black Friday (if not Thanksgiving itself) has started to become a global phenomenon. It started with Mexican and Canadian retailers, who wanted to keep shoppers (and shopping dollars) in the country. (Although the Mexicans cleverly, and optimistically, renamed the phenomenon “El Buen Fin” or “The Good Weekend.”) But in the last five years, Black Friday has spread across Europe and into India and the Middle East.

Ironically, Black Friday is also the least popular American holiday (according to a 2012 Gallup poll, only 18% of American adults actually approve of it) because it has morphed into the most competitive and least jolly day in the calendar year, but since it is also the most lucrative sales day in the calendar year, the basic premise probably isn’t going anywhere but global. So today, even the English are (however indirectly) celebrating American Thanksgiving—although the British police have made it clear that they would be thankful if the insane crowd antics associated with this particular tradition would pass them by.

black friday and all its glory

Fortunately, you can keep your Thanksgiving spirit intact (and avoid physical bodily harm) by staying home this Friday and ordering your holiday gifts from the comfort of your own couch. And whether your plans focus on a truly spectacular Thanksgiving dinner, a winning football game, or a rousing game of turkey bowling, Otero Menswear will keep your look amazing. (And if you order belts in multiple sizes…we promise not to tell!)

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Happy Holidays!

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