Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Turkey Day

Traditions of the Season....
By Martha Rogers

Thanksgiving finally became a national holiday declared by President  Abraham Lincoln following a letter-writing campaign by Sarah Hale, magazine editor of Gody’s. She advocated a holiday that would promote family togetherness and thankfulness. Prior to that, the holiday was celebrated sporadically even after George Washington declared a national day of thanksgiving and praise for December 18, 1877.

Traditional 19th century family dinner. 

The only time Thanksgiving was changed from the last Thursday of November to the next-to-last was in 1939 when President Roosevelt extended the date to give more time for Christmas shopping. That didn’t last long as the outraged public protested and legislation was passed in 1941 making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday of November.

Traditions surrounding Thanksgiving revolved mostly around what the families of the day established in various regions of the nation although the purpose remained the same. The accounts of the first Thanksgiving in 1621 were
recorded by William Bradford of Plymouth Plantation and Edward Winslow. They celebrated with a feast featuring the bounty of their harvest for the year. Thus, food became more associated with Thanksgiving than other things except being thankful for the harvest. Jennie Auguste Brownscombe rendition in oil is seen here.

We're not sure when cranberries officially became a Thanksgiving meal fixture, however The New Jersey Star-Ledger wrote, “Cranberries officially became a part of the national Thanksgiving tradition in 1864, when Gen. Ulysses S. Grant ordered cranberries be served to soldiers as part of their holiday meal.” Whether it was widely used before that remains a mystery.

Football rivalries took began in the late 19th century in Massachusetts with games played on Thanksgiving Day, and professional football took root on the day in the 1890’s. When the practice died out for colleges and high schools, the professionals took over. And we thought football games on Thanksgiving were a modern day phenomena.

In New York City, early parades were held with people dressed up in fanciful masks and costumes. They roamed the streets in small mobs making merry for the day. That morphed into what became known as ragamuffin parades of
children dresses as “ragamuffins” in old mismatched clothes and smudged faces. That tradtion morphed into what is now known as the “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade” watched by millions on TV.

The turkey became the traditional meat as Victorian women were positive that is
what the Pilgrims had served. The custom of snapping the “wish bone” in two after dinner came to us from the English, who got it from the Romans. Apparently early Etruscans thought chickens were oracles, so they used the birds in an attempt to predict the future. After a chicken was killed, it was laid out to dry so that citizens still had access to its alleged powers. The wishbone was then picked up, stroked and revered; people allegedly made wishes on it, hence giving it its current name of wishbone. This was then carried over to turkey as well. Instead of stroking the bone, two people now wish on it then snap it. Whoever gets the longer end receives his or her wish.

Sweet potatoes came to us by way of the slave trade from the West Indies. The slaves used sugar-cane boiled down into molasses and poured it over the raw sweet potatoes. The heat of the boiling sugar was so hot that it cooked the potatoes as it cooled. Thus the source of candied sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner.

The slave population gave the South cornbread as well and became a staple in making a stuffing for the turkey. Pecan pie joined pumpkin pie as the traditional dessert because of an abundance of the nuts in the South.

Whatever foods are served or activities are observed, Thanksgiving is a family holiday. Artists like Norman Rockwell preserved that ideal with his paintings.

 It’s a time when families gather to offer thanks for the blessings of the past year. Even if the day has to be a day early or late because of family commitments, it is still a day of giving thanks.  

Our family has its own traditions and even those changed as our children grew older and married. My grandmother’s recipe for cornbread dressing for the turkey is still served, and I’ve taught our middle daughter-in-law to make it so the tradition will be passed on to the next generation. I also use my grandmother’s Southern Pecan Pie recipe and a variation of her cranberry congealed salad. 

What are some of the traditions of your family at Thanksgiving? Answer below and be sure to leave your email address for a chance to win your choice of a copy of my Christmas book Christmas at Holly Hill or a digital copy of Christmas Blessing from the Mail Order Christmas Angels collection.

It is October 1898, and Clayton Barlow has just returned home after serving time in prison for his part in a bank robbery. His family welcomes him, but the townspeople are skeptical. Bored with life in the small town but determined to make a new start, he goes to work with his father, hoping to regain the town’s trust.   
Clayton recognizes the schoolteacher at the Prairie Grove School as his childhood friend, Merry Lee Warner, and old feelings surface. Still, he doubts that he could ever get a woman like Merry to love him.  

As the townspeople prepare for Christmas, their suspicions about Clayton lead to trouble. Will the trusting heart of an unlikely new friend be enough to restore Clayton’s relationships with his neighbors and reunite him with God and Merry?

Annelle Pugh is the daughter caretaker of her retired sea captain father who is in poor health. As she approaches age thirty, he smothers any of her attempts at a social life, and Nelle becomes discouraged and fearful she’ll never have a home of her own.  While her aunt is visiting and taking of the Captain, Nelle grabs the chance to go west and become one of the Mail Order Angels requested by a group of men in Wyoming. Riley Thornton is a rancher mourning the death of his wife and desperately needs someone to care for his three children. After several nanny attempts fail, Riley signs up for one of the Angel Brides who consented to come to Wyoming. Riley almost backs out when he sees how petite Nelle is and doubts she’ll be able to handle two growing daughters and a barely walking son as well as take care of the cooking and cleaning. Despite her doubts, Nelle begins to love Riley, but at every turn her fear of being sent back East keeps her from letting her feelings be known. As they work together, Riley comes to realize Nelle is special and truly his blessing from God at Christmas. 

Martha Rogers is a free-lance writer and writes a weekly devotional for ACFW. Martha and her husband Rex live in Houston where they enjoy spending time with their grandchildren.  A former English and Home Economics teacher, Martha loves to cook and experimenting with recipes and loves scrapbooking when she has time. She has written three series, Winds Across the Prairie and Seasons of the Heart and The Homeward Journey. Her new contemporary series, Love in the Bayou City of Houston and novella, Christmas Blessing are now available on Amazon.  

Find Martha at:                                    


  1. We don't have very many traditions around Thanksgiving, at least I don't think we We have turkey with all the regular additions. Perhaps the most different is a fruit stuffing as well as sage dressing. Our daughter decorates the house for Christmas while my husband cooks ( he is a chef ). I spend my time helping wherever needed. Thanks for the history behind many of items we always have for Thanksgiving. Thanks also for the giveaway :)
    bettimace at gmail dot com

    1. Thank you for stopping by. Fruit stuffing sounds really interesting. Our grandsons bring down our boxes of Christmas decorations from the attic so I can start decorating the next day. Enjoy your holiday with your family this year.

  2. Thanksgiving was my father's favorite holiday. He was born in 1923, the youngest of eight children in a farm family. They didn't have much money to spend on Christmas presents but they always had plenty to eat and my grandmother was a fantastic cook so Thanksgiving was a wonderful day for this young boy. My mother is also a fantastic cook and she made sure that Daddy's favorite holiday wasn't a disappointment! We always had the parades on TV while we waited for dinner. Yes, our noon meal was dinner and our evening meal was supper. (Still is in my heart, even though most of my coworkers called them the "city" names!) Until his employer started giving turkeys at work, Mom stewed a hen and made dumplings and dressing. I still love chicken and dumplings!

    I can never hear the words "Over the river and through the woods" without thinking of my Dad. We will soon observe 10 Thanksgivings without him and even though we continue to be both blessed and thankful, we are always missing the heart of this special day: our previous father.
    cps1950 (at)gmail(dot)com

    1. Thank you for those wonderful memories. My husband was one of 10 who lived on a farm and their Thanksgiving was wild turkey they hunted and shot as well as foods grown from their gardens, so I can relate to your dad. We had some wonderful Thanksgivings on the farm and even after they moved to town. Mrs. Rogers had two stoves, two refrigerators and two freezers and fed all of us when we got together for the holiday. Yeah, we have dinner at noon and supper in the evening. Bet your mom made great chicken and dumplings.

  3. Hi Martha, I normally cook our Thanksgiving dinner, but this year my dil offered, so I won't have to do as much. We eat the normal turkey dinner with mashed and sweet potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole,usually another veggie or two, and pie. Mmm....I'm getting hungry. I'd like to know what you're grandma puts in her stuffing.

    1. It's nice when a dil offers. :) When we go to Robert's house, I still have to bring the dressing and talk my dil through getting the turkey ready for roasting. Pecan pie is the other thing I have to take to her house.
      Mimi used cornbread as the base, eggs, chopped green onions, chopped celery, left over biscuits she had frozen, chicken broth, sage, and poultry seasoning and she added 1/4 to 1/2 cup melted butter (not margarine) at the very end before putting it all in a casserole to bake. I think that butter is what made it so rich tasting. The more mixture she had, the more butter she added. Very easy, very simple, but oh so good...even the next day with warmed over gravy.

  4. We go to visit my sis-in-law & niece in Washington for a few days, only a 4 hour drive. Our tradition is to go to Old Country Buffet for a late lunch/early dinner and we each say what we are thankful for. No cooking, no cleanup :-) Then we go back to their house for my famous homemade pumpkin pie for dessert and play a rousing game or two. Always fun times with family!

    Thank you for a chance to win "Christmas at Holly Hill"
    teamob4 (at) gmail (dot) com

    1. Now that does sound like an easy day. May your Thanksgiving be just as much fun this year.

  5. Hi Martha! My family comes to my house for Thanksgiving every year. We have ham and chicken and dressing with all the trimmings. Sweet potato casserole is a must and now, green bean bundles have joined the mix. We try to take some family pictures and enjoy our time together.

    Thank you for your wonderful giveaway and Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

    mauback55 at gmail dot com

    1. Sounds like a wonderful day, and all this talk about Thanksgiving food makes me hungry. May your family enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving together this year.

  6. Very interesting on the origin of traditional Holiday meal items. Our family tradition is Turkey on Christmas and Thanksgiving and Ham on New Years Day. Thanks for your post. I'd love to win the hard copy book, Christmas at Holly Hill! sm wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com