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Carving the Meaning Out of Thanksgiving Traditions: HowStuffWorks.com Talks Turkey, Football and Parades

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Did You Know that Presidential Turkey Pardons Date Back More than 100 Years?

ATLANTA - November 19, 2009 - Next week, families and friends will gather to celebrate Thanksgiving and partake in their annual traditions. Whether they spend the day eating turkey, enjoying a parade, baking pies, watching football or all of the above, Americans know how Thanksgiving works. Or so they think.

"Year after year, friends and families get together to observe Thanksgiving and follow their annual traditions," said Conal Byrne, Editor-in-Chief, HowStuffWorks.com. "Few people understand why they are giving thanks, eating turkey or making cranberry sauce; they assume it is their family's tradition. The truth is that Thanksgiving traditions have been influenced by many different cultures over the centuries."

This fall, HowStuffWorks.com, an award-winning, credible online resource that provides easy-to-understand information and explanation for thousands of topics, offers those curious Thanksgiving guests something else to be thankful for: a cornucopia of little-known facts from an article titled "How Thanksgiving Works," which might make this year's celebration even more meaningful:

  • The Pilgrims and Indians weren't the first to celebrate Thanksgiving. Every autumn, the ancient Greeks enjoyed a three-day festival to honor Demeter, the goddess of corn and grains. The Romans had a similar celebration in which they honored Ceres, the goddess of corn.
  • And you thought Grandma's cornucopia was ancient. The cornucopia actually dates back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. In Greek mythology, the cornucopia is an enchanted severed goat's horn, created by Zeus to produce a never-ending supply of whatever the owner desires.
  • Thanksgiving Day parades began as a marketing technique. The tradition of Thanksgiving parades goes back to the early 20th century, when people began to associate Thanksgiving with the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. In order to attract customers, stores like Macy's sponsored elaborate parades like the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
  • Turkey pardons date as far back as the 1800s. The tradition is thought to be connected to Abraham Lincoln sparing a turkey named "Jack" from becoming the main dish in a holiday meal.
  • There's a reason we eat turkey. The connection between turkey and Thanksgiving goes back to the prevalence of wild turkey in the New World. At the time of the first Thanksgiving, Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford commented on "the great store of wild turkeys."
  • Corn and cranberries date back to the first Thanksgiving. Before you accuse the cook of going overboard with side dishes, consider this: After turkey, the most significant dish on the table is corn. This abundant crop was an important staple to the Pilgrims. Cranberries were also probably on the first Thanksgiving table. The American Indians taught the Pilgrims to make a cranberry sauce called "ibimi," which means "bitter berry." When the colonists saw the berry, they renamed it "crane-berry," because its flowers resembled the long-necked bird called the crane.
  • Football is a Thanksgiving tradition too … kind of. In ancient harvest festivals, people usually celebrated with games and sports, so you could argue the football tradition has very deep roots.

HowStuffWorks.com has the holiday 411, from history to do-it-yourself decoration ideas. Even those know-it-alls can take the Ultimate Thanksgiving Quiz at HowStuffWorks.com.


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