The best of ‘the history of thanksgiving’ for 2013.

With the advent of US Thanksgiving this week (Thursday 27 November) comes the publication of a great many journalistic histories of this north american holiday. Today HitM shares with you our selection of the best of this year’s histories of thanksgiving.

Sexy Pilgrims and Creepy Balloons

We love ‘sSaucy Pilgrims: The Hidden Sexy Side of Thanksgiving” (published by the Huff Post). This piece presents the unexpected results of the author’s “search for vintage Thanksgiving ads” which turned up “a smattering of strangely, yet kind of brilliantly, conceived images featuring scantily clad farm girls, flirtatiously menacing turkeys, sexy pilgrims, which was likely news to them, and one budding bombshell named Marilyn Monroe bringing the penultimate in Thanksgiving sexy. Maize, untamed wilderness, and barnyard fowl never seemed so… alluring”. Here’s one of Moechen’s ‘sexy pilgrims’:


Of course others have climbed aboard the strange-photos-of-thanksgivings-past wagon. We like Philip Bump’s photo-essay “The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Balloons Used To Be Extremely Creepy“, posted on the Atlantic Cities blog.


A history of thanksgiving day feasts, or, what’s with the turkey?

Another highlight of this year’s history-of-thanksgiving stories published this year discuss the evolution of what is for many US Americans the traditional thanksgiving feast. The food historian Amanda Moniz’ piece in the Washington Post presents a “short history of eight thanksgiving foods”. Moniz claims that “The bird on many Americans’ Thanksgiving tables today might be about the only thing that connects our national holiday with the romanticized meal in 1621 shared by Pilgrims and Indians and studied by so many generations of American schoolchildren”. Many other trimmings are much more recent additions to the Thanksgiving table. Moniz argues that the habit of stuffing turkeys with oysters (?!) dates back to the early 19th century. Candied yams (sweet potatoes baked with marshmellows) was a late-19th century innovation in US cuisine.

And what about the Presidential Turkey Pardon?

Business Insider has posted an interesting article on the history of the “odd and heartwarming tradition” of the Presidential Turkey Pardon.  This article reports that the first time that a thanksgiving turkey was spared at the White House was in 1863, when President Lincoln’s son Tad begged his father not to kill the bird that he had grown fond of. But it wasn’t until 1989 that President George Bush actually issued a formal presidential pardon to a turkey. The tradition has been continued by subsequent US Presidents, including Obama (you can see a video of Obama’s 2011 turkey pardon here).

By Kristie Flannery 
Member of the History in the Making Journal Collective
PhD student, The University of Texas at Austin

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