Thanksgiving Traditions & Memories

Created on Nov 23, 2021 by Kathy Pinna
You've probably spent your whole life with the same traditions on Thanksgiving: Family and friends gathering for turkey, dressing (or stuffing), mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole, and whatever else makes your family tradition complete.

Then there are the desserts - pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie, berry pie, cakes, cheesecake . . . Are you getting hungry?

All of this is in the spirit of the first Thanksgiving - friends and family coming together to celebrate, and give thanks for, the bounty in their lives. Technology may change, the way we prepare these feasts may change, but the essence remains the same.

Take a stroll down memory lane - some of these traditions may seem familiar, others may not.

Did you know? The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in November of 1621 when the Wampanoag tribe and the Pilgrims came together for a harvest celebration. The feast, which lasted 3 days, included waterfowl, venison, fish, lobster, clams, berries, fruit, pumpkin, and squash. According to reports, there were 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims who attended. In 1863, President Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a federal holiday of "Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens" and made it the last Thursday of November. In 1941, FDR proclaimed the 4th Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day - to give citizens more time to shop for Christmas - and this has been the official day ever since.

Thanksgiving Traditions & Memories

Hunting, just like his forefathers

Thanksgiving turkey, c1912

The convenience of a fresh turkey - the legs are handy for hauling?

Sometimes the whole family . . .

Whidden and Woodal Thanksgiving

Got their guns and went out to hunt?

Did you buy your turkey outside at a tobacco auction?

Farmer selling Thanksgiving turkey

1939 in Durham, North Carolina


Or did you go out into the woods, brave person?

Thanksgiving, 1912

1912 - almost 300 years after the first Thanksgiving.

Or perhaps you went to the market?

Thanksgiving, 1919

This is 1919 - but it's kinda like today's farmer's market . . .

Then there was your local butcher shop . . .

Frank Delano's Thanksgiving Butcher

November 1940: Easier, less time involved, and just around the corner.

But Presidents always get special delivery

President Harding's Thanksgiving Turkey

The White House, 1921. This was delivery of a turkey for Warren G. Harding.


Plucking the turkey

Thanksgiving Turkey, 1900

SO happy most of us don't have to do this any more!

Boy, that stove brings back memories!

Mrs. Timothy Levy Crouch

That's a 20 lb turkey in a wood stove. Now aren't you thankful for your modern kitchen?

Family arriving

Thanksgiving, 1942. Four of Mr. and Mrs. Wayman E....

During WWII, some warriors came home for Thanksgiving. That must have been so special.

1940 - long and skinny bird

Crouch Thanksgiving, 1940

No oversized breasts here! Even turkeys today look different.

Coming out of the kitchen

Chaplin family, Thanksgiving 1960s

1960 - you can just smell this turkey with a color photo!

Almost time to eat!

Fincham Family Thanksgiving, 1942

1942. The carving of the bird - and someone always steals a piece while it's being carved.


Go ahead - dig in!

Landis family Thanksgiving, 1942

1942 Pennsylvania - everyone taking some of the delicious food.

Family, food, crowded around the table . . .

Barrineau Family, PA c1955

That's Thanksgiving whether it's the 1950s or the 21st century.

Some people always get the folding chairs

Maloff Family, CA c 1951

This is 1951 but it's always true.

And don't forget the kid's table!

Timothy Levy Crouch Family Thanksgiving

It always felt good when you graduated to sitting with the adults. Of course, then you couldn't play with the food.

After all that food, your dessert is waiting . . .

Pumpkin pies at Thanksgiving

Pies, cakes . . . the pounds are adding up.

Okay, this isn't a Pilgrim tradition but . . .

Store closed for Thanksgiving Day

In 1941, stores closed for football games on Thanksgiving. Many don't close at all anymore. But then, we have big tvs for the big game now.

But the cafe didn't close in 1940 Virginia . . .

Thanksgiving at the Cafe

And you could get the whole dinner for 60 cents - without days of cooking on your part.

The Thanksgiving Maskers

Thanksgiving Masker, 1911

In the early 20th century, children (especially in New York City) would dress up and beg for change on Thanksgiving. With the introduction of the Macy's Day Parade in the '20's, the Masker tradition merged with Halloween - thus the Halloween we know today.

1910 Maskers

Thanksgiving Maskers circa 1910

Newspapers denounced parents who allowed their children to follow this "hooligan" practice.

Maskers scrambling for pennies

Thanksgiving Maskers

In 1910, a 3/4 ounces candy bar cost 2 cents. Today, the average bar is 1.5 - 1.8 oz and costs north of $1

1902 Thanksgiving Proclamation Act

President Teddy Roosevelt signing the Thanksgiving Proclamation Act in 1902.
1902 Thanksgiving Proclamation Act

President Franklin Roosevelt (Teddy was his cousin and Eleanor's uncle) moved Thanksgiving from the last Thursday of November to the fourth Thursday of November in 1939 to give Americans more time to shop for Christmas!

And in the end, Thanksgiving is all about love

Tom and Terry Rogalski - Thanksgiving Pilgrims

And the people in our lives. Happy Thanksgiving!

Have photos that you'd like to see included? Share your photos or click "next page" below to see photos of Native Americans - our partners in thanksgiving.
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