Most Americans are familiar with the story of a fall day in 1621, the day of the first ever Thanksgiving, when the colonists celebrated their first harvest with the Wampanoag Native American tribe. But, according to the History Channel, it wasn’t until 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving an official holiday to be held every fourth Thursday in November.
Today, Thanksgiving may be one of the biggest holidays of the year, but the traditional dinners today no longer exactly resemble the first feast in 1621.
With the creation of events such as the Macy’s Day Parade in 1926 and the massive sales on Black Friday, over the years, Thanksgiving has become far more extravagant and more commercialized.
Hallmark cards feature cartoon turkeys wishing loved ones a “Happy Thanksgiving!” and grocery store shelves are fully stocked with bright orange tins of pumpkin filling.
However, many of our modern holiday staples – potatoes, pumpkin pie, and cranberry sauce – were most likely not brought to England for the first Thanksgiving. The Wampanoags brought five deer for the feast, so venison was eaten instead of the typical turkey that will be present at tables across the nation next Thursday.
It wasn’t until Sarah Josepha Hale – author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” – started a campaign that Thanksgiving became a national holiday, and published recipes for turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie that soon became the staple dishes.
Traditions have clearly changed, but it seems the concepts of being thankful and celebrating with family and friends over a large feast have remained. Even under the umbrella terms of “gratitude”, “family”, and “food”, there are a variety of traditions that will be taking place next week.
“We always have turkey, scalloped potatoes, corn bread, and cranberry sauce with either pumpkin or lemon meringue pie for dessert and sparkling apple cider to drink,” freshman Samantha Ganey of Hudson, NY said.
The family of freshman Erin Muir of Needham, MA also serves the staples of the holiday: turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy, and green beans. But for the Muir’s, dessert is a bit different. “My grandma also buys my brother and I chocolate turkeys,” Muir said.
Stuffing has always been a classic favorite of the evening, but each family has its own individual way of spicing it up. “My mom leaves bread out in the days before to make it stale, then makes the stuffing and cooks it in the turkey,” freshman Natali Chai of Sarasota, FL, said. Another favorite in Chait’s family is the “famous” chocolate peanut butter pie. “My mom always makes more than one,” she said.
But as we all know, there is more to the holiday than just the meal.
Nina Fogel, a junior from Oakland, CA, remembers being one of the youngest members at the Thanksgiving festivities, along with her sister. While the adults talked, Fogel and her sister looked for other ways to keep themselves occupied.
“We would get out markers and paper and play the scribble game” Fogel said. “One person would draw a scribble or line, and another person would turn it into a funny animal or picture or something.”
Even though they’re now old enough to be a part of the conversations, Fogel says they still play the scribble game before the pie is served.
For sophomore Steven Whitney, the holiday is meant for spending time catching up with family.
“It’s not often that I get to see my extended family, so when they come for the holidays, a lot of the time is spent chatting about what’s going on in each other’s lives,” he said of his Thanksgiving at his home in Dobbs Ferry, NY.
Popular media also has its own Thanksgiving traditions, from radio stations across the country playing “Alice’s Restaurant” to holiday-themed movies.
“My family always watches the Macy’s Day Parade,” sophomore Sam DeSantis from Guilderland, NY said. “We’ll also sometimes check out the football game.”
Since Thanksgiving is primarily a U.S. holiday, many international students have a vastly different view of it. Many didn’t celebrate it until they arrived at UR.
Growing up in Paraguay, sophomore Carlos Yuki Gonzalez didn’t learn about Thanksgiving until he first went to an English language learning institution. “We would celebrate this day by having different types of turkey, stuffing, and usual
Thanksgiving food,” Gonzalez said. “The dining room would be filled with U.S. flags and decorations alluding to the thanksgiving spirit of the U.S. celebration.”
Some students who aren’t returning to their home country for the break are staying with friends and their families. That is the case for sophomore Karan Vombatkere from Mumbai. “I’ll be going to one of my friend’s house in New York City,” he said. “I did the same last year.”
Back home in India, Vombatkere said there are a lot of holidays where food is an important part of the festivities, but none which “have such a strict menu.”
While the turkey and pumpkin pie are fairly universal Thanksgiving traditions, everyone has unique ways of celebrating the holiday that each produce their own memories and stories every year.