The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 by the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indian tribe members.  They shared a three day autumn harvest feast which became known as the first Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving became a national holiday in 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln signed a proclamation declaring Thanksgiving be commemorated every year on the last Thursday in November.

In 1939 President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday to the third Thursday, to lengthen the Christmas shopping season and help strengthen a sagging economy that was recovering from the Great Depression.  In 1941 Congress reversed President Roosevelt’s decision. The president approved a joint house resolution establishing by law the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day.

The first Macy’s Christmas Parade began on Thanksgiving Day in 1924. The tradition was believed to have been started by first-generation immigrants who wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving with the type of festival their parents enjoyed in Europe.  The parade was suspended from 1942-1944 during World War II, as the rubber and helium used in the parade were needed for the war effort.  The parade resumed in 1945 and became a permanent part of American culture in 1947 after it was featured in the movie, “Miracle on 34th Street.”   Even today, approximately 3.5 million people line the streets to watch the parade on Thanksgiving Day.

Thanksgiving has been a football day since the inception of professional football back in the early 20th century. It became a national institution in 1934 when the Detroit Lions put together a game with the Chicago Bears.  Since then , Detroit has played a Thanksgiving game ever since.  During the 1950s, the Detroit game was the only NFL turkey-day contest. There are always long lines at the movie theaters across the country on Thanksgiving night.  After the turkey, the football and more turkey, lots of families head to the movie theater. 

Ever stop to think how differently Thanksgiving was celebrated back in the 50's?  Elementary schools held an annual Thanksgiving play depicting the first Thanksgiving.  Students dressed in pilgrim or indian outfits. Families traveled many miles to spend time at relatives homes.  As kids, we looked forward to spending time with our grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.  Preparation of Thanksgiving  dinner preparation usually began very early in the day.  Kids helped polish silverware, set out the best china, and put out Thanksgiving candles on our best tablecloth.  In 1955, the price of a Turkey was 53 cents a pound and the average price of a ham 49 cents a pound.  Stores were all closed so their employees could celebrate the holiday with their families.  In many cities newspapers were not published so their employees could also spend the holiday with loved ones.

Younger kids watched the Rootie Tootie Thanksgiving Special from Radio City in the early-1950's.  The show featured a host of kid show guest stars including Kukla, Fran & Ollie.  Families often watched Macy’s Christmas Parade together.  Later, grandfathers, dads and sons sat together and watched the football game on television.  Thanksgiving was truly a family day and a holiday we looked forward to all year!


 Page created on 10/10/11