Thursday is the day millions of people across the United States will gather with family and friends to celebrate a day of giving thanks. But why will most of the meals feature turkey, what’s the story behind the Macy’s parade, and why is football such a big part of the day?
Turkey DayAlthough the plump bird is a staple for most Thanksgiving meals, the first Thanksgiving most likely did not feature turkeys. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “there is no indication that turkey was served.” Deer and “wild foul” were on the menu, but the birds on the table were most likely ducks or geese.
But by the 1800s, turkey was relatively popular for big meals, due to their large numbers and size. Works by Charles Dickens and Sarah Josepha Hale, as well as other essays and writings from the pilgrim days, which featured turkeys during holiday meals, also helped solidify the bird’s place in tradition.
By the time Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, turkey had become a mainstay of the holiday.
Macy’s paradeThe first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade didn’t feature balloons, but instead saw real animals marching down 59th Street, according to USA Today. The 1924 parade had a variety of creatures from the Central Park Zoo on display. The first balloon, depicting Felix the Cat, debuted a few years later. The parade has been broadcast nationally each year since 1952.
More than 44 million people watch the annual event, which takes more than 8,000 volunteers and performers to put together.
Family and footballThe tradition of watching teams battle on the gridiron while stuffing one’s face with stuffing is now as much a part of the holiday as the meal itself. The annual event dates back to 1934, when the Detroit Lions played against the Chicago Bears in an effort to drum up interest in the team.
The Lions have played every Thanksgiving since 1945, while the Dallas Cowboys have been a turkey day mainstay since 1966. According to SB Nation, former Cowboys President and General Manager Tex Schramm was looking for ways to bring more attention to his fledgling team and didn’t hesitate when a chance to get them on a national stage with Thanksgiving games came about.
The then-St. Louis Cardinals actually were given a shot at playing Thanksgiving games in the ‘70s, but two bad losses saw the return of the Cowboys, and they have played every third Thursday in November since.