1924 : Italian Wooden Puppets Become Featured Part of Detroit’s Thanksgiving Parade
Nov 26 all-day

Some are pirates. Some are Martians. Some are animals. And the oldest ones—arguably the most elaborate and haunting — are Italian. Italian, because in the mid-1920s, Charles Wendel, then-director of displays at Hudson’s department store in Detroit, had recently returned from a European trip where he’d witnessed the Carnival of Viareggio with his own eyes. There, enormous, intricate, and often emotionally intense papier-mâché masks and heads danced in the streets in a rite that goes back to the 1800s. With one look, he decided it was a perfect tradition to bring back to Detroit, where he had been mulling over the idea of a downtown holiday parade to get people in the Christmas spirit—and revved up for the imminent holiday shopping season.

Thus, the Detroit Thanksgiving Day Parade was born, and Wendel collaborated with the puppet artisans in Viareggio, Italy to bring the first Hudson’s-ordered “Big Heads” to the inaugural parade on Thanksgiving Day, 1924. They were a huge hit, and over the years, the Detroit Parade Company’s ever-expanding collection of giant puppets has grown to more than 300. Detroit-based artists who’ve trained with the papier-mâché masters in Viareggio have continued the tradition in more recent decades, crafting their own big-head style puppets, often of local Detroit celebrities. (This year’s addition is a likeness of Gordie Howe.) The old ones can always be discerned from the new with one simple trick: On the inside of the vintage puppets, all the yellowing papier-mâché newsprint is in Italian.

Lou Blouin and Emily Bingham, “Big Heads“, Found Michigan, November 27, 2013.

Parade Corporation Big Heads Sponsors.

1924: First Detroit Thanksgiving Parade
Nov 26 all-day

In 1924, Charles F. Wendel, display manager at the J.L. Hudson Company, conceived the idea of a grand Thanksgiving parade down Woodward Avenue, with Santa alighting from his sleigh at Hudson’s to take up residence at the 12th floor Toyland.

His idea would become one of Detroit’s longest-running and most beloved traditions.

Wendel’s initial inspiration came from a stunt in Toronto where Santa arrived at Eaton’s department store in an old time Tally-Ho carriage, but Wendel elaborated on the idea. A European trip with his wife had introduced him to the Italian carnivals in Venice and Viareggio featuring dancing through the streets and giant papier mache heads, and these would become the foundation for his parade.

The first parade in 1924 had four bands, huge heads carried on the shoulders of marchers, 10 floats depicting nursery rhymes, and bands from Highland Park, Hamtramck and Northwestern high schools. Floats included The Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe and Mother Goose.

In 1925, 300 male employees of Hudson’s marched in the parade. Detroit Creamery loaned its horses and wagons to pull the 26 floats and Santa. A live elephant was used to promote a toy sold at the store.

By 1939, there were eight brass bands and 1,008 assorted characters from fairy tales and nursery rhymes. Donald Duck was there along with the biggest candystick in the world.

The giant heads came from a small studio in Viareggio, Italy, hand made by Alfredo Morescalchi and his staff. Morescalchi was the chief designer of floats and masks for the Viareggio carnival, the largest in Italy. Over the years he made hundreds of heads for the Hudson’s parade. The heads in Italy are three stories high, but because of overhead wires, the Detroit heads were smaller. In Detroit, Charlie Gettel patched and pampered the heads for more than 45 years. Famous people portrayed by the more than 600 heads included Henry Ford, Rosa Parks, Charles Lindbergh and Joe Louis.

Detroiters flocked to the parade right from the start. Crowds ranged from more than 100,000 in the ’20s to close to a million in the ’90s. The crowd were so large, in fact, that the Protestant Pastors Union of Greater Detroit consulted with Hudson’s in 1940 complaining that the Thanksgiving Parade was interfering with services. Early morning services, even if scheduled at 7 a.m., had parents leaving early. A later service, at 11 a.m., had people straggling in late. The pastors considered the Thanksgiving Parade only a little less detrimental than if it were held on Easter morning!

World War II and its attendant shortages of manpower, gasoline and supplies brought a temporary halt to the festivities. The 1942 parade was the last before the hiatus. There were no holly, ribbons, trees, wreaths or lights. The giant rubber creations and floats moving down Woodward bore signs: “I’m on my way to the Rubber Salvage.” After the parade the giant animals were punctured, sliced and slashed in the alley between the east and west Hudson’s buildings and went into the war salvage drive.

Santa made a triumphant return on November 22, 1945, to the cheers of 200,000 onlookers in 24-degree weather with snow falling on Donald Duck, the Toy Soldiers and the Wizard of Oz. There were 600 characters, eight bands and 75 clowns.

A perennial feature of the parade was the lost children station. In 1946, The Detroit News described a dozen children howling in the care of the women’s division of the police department. They included 11 boys and one girl, Miss Mary Marjorie Turkaly, age 5.

Children were, of course, the main audience for the parade. In 1948, the Rotary, the Board of Education and the Legal Division of the Detroit Street Railroad joined forces to provide 29 buses to bring 650 handicapped children to the parade.

1948 saw a crowd of 500,000 downtown and many more watched the parade for the first time on television. In 1952, NBC broadcast the parade nationally, allowing the entire whole country to see the 85-foot goozlebug and the spouting Wheezy the Whale. Television’s popular Kukla, Fran and Ollie joined the 25 floats, 1,000 marchers and 11 bands.

From the beginning, the parade was the creation and responsibility of the Hudson’s display department. In 1954 Hudson’s display manager Art Wright, dressed as a poodle, carried a chart under his fur showing where every marcher had to be at every moment.

In 1958, Hudson’s began a design contest for elementary school students. Children designed and drew a float concept. The winning design was actually made into a float, and the artist won a cash prize. The first winner was 10-year-old Carol Kulesza from Detroit. A later winner, David Acosta, 12, had left town by the time the winning design was announced. His family had moved to Los Angeles, but an uncle was able to track him down after news stories reported that Hudson’s was searching for him.

There was a squabble in 1959 over the television rights to the parade. Although Hudson’s had an agreement with ABC to air the parade nationally, CBS wanted to broadcast a portion of the parade along with Macy’s and Gimbel’s parades. Hudson’s threatened a lawsuit but CBS went ahead. National coverage ended completely in 1988, but will resume this year with Chrysler returning as a sponsor of a half hour’s coverage on CBS.

Detroit City Councilman Louis C. Miriani created a stir in 1966 after he told the Oak Park Jaycees they should get a passport and visa to sell popcorn at the parade. He was attacked for “trying to build a Berlin Wall around Detroit.” Earlier, as mayor, Miriani had been caught on television during the 1960 parade telling Christmas Carol, who was making her speech introducing Santa, to “Hurry it up, kid!”

Mishaps have been few throughout the history of the parade, but when they occurred they were spectacular. In the early years, horses were used to draw the floats. One year a team of horses, startled by a marching band, panicked and took off, destroying a gas station building as well as the float they were pulling. After that, Hudson’s employees pulled the floats, as many as 24 for a single float. Metal wheels freezing to street surfaces and sticking in trolley tracks made it a grueling job, and eventually mechanized floats became the norm.

In 1960 five children were pushed underneath the Santa float by a surging crowd. Leonard Tarnowski, 9, suffered injuries to an arm and leg; the other children were pulled out unharmed.

In 1964, the Grand Marshall was Lassie. The television star was supposed to bound from a perch of artificial snow to a pedestal at the reviewing platform, but stage fright paralyzed the dog. The trainer coaxed for four minutes while the network seconds ticked away, and Santa’s arrival was delayed. Finally the collie made the leap, and Santa got his time on TV.

In 1969 a bomb threat caused a slight delay while a thorough search was made of Santa’s float. Nothing suspicious was found and Santa continued on his journey to Toyland.

In 1980, the city had to pay $36,000 to modify brand new street lights and traffic lights on Woodward so parade floats and balloons could get past. Although the parade had been mentioned during planning sessions for the new fixtures, someone apparently said they wouldn’t interfere with the parade. They did. The city had to cut 11 feet off the crossbars of nine lights.

The Most Rebellious Parader award goes to Chilly Willy, a rogue 30-foot-tall penguin. Chilly Willy pulled free of his tethers in 1990 and took off on a 25-mile journey up the river to Lake St. Clair. He was apprehended by the Coast Guard just off Walpole Island at 4:18 pm. The next summer, Chilly Willy, still rambunctious, was on a promotional engagement at a car dealership when he knocked a former parade official off the dealership roof, breaking her arm and leg.

Although they can’t prepare for every untoward circumstance, parade officials have had a back-up Santa hidden on the Santa float as a kind of understudy in case of misfortune.

In the late ’70s, Hudson’s began soliciting sponsors for the parade and in 1979, gave up primary sponsorship and turned over control of the parade to Detroit Renaissance, which in turn handed off to the Michigan Thanksgiving Parade Foundation in 1983. The Parade Company took over in 1990, and keeps the show running with thousands of volunteers. Many Detroit businesses are sponsors of the parade and the Distinguished Clown Corps is made up of many well-known Detroiters who contribute $1,000 to march as clowns in the parade, including Richard Kughn, A. Alfred Taubman, Avern Cohn, Edsel Ford, Art Van Eslander, Dave Bing and Denise Ilitch Lites.

Because of these well-wishers, the parade is going strong. Last year’s parade had 2,000 costumed marchers, 5 equestrian units, 15 bands, 14 balloons, and 28 floats.

2020 Update:  Due to the current Coronavirus Pandemic, the Detroit Thanksgiving Parade will be a virtual presentation.

Source: “Detroit’s Thanksgiving Day Parade“, Detroit News, November 25, 1999.

1990 : Chilly Willy Balloon Escapes Detroit Parade
Nov 26 all-day

A newer Chilly Willy balloon photo from a more recent parade.

I love Chilly Willy and the Thanksgiving Day Parade and back in 1990, these two combined to make what for me is the best Thanksgiving Parade story ever. What many people don’t realize is the Detroit Thanksgiving Day parade is the 2nd oldest and 2nd largest in the nation. Over the years there’s been plenty of parade balloon mishaps in NY and Detroit, but for me the one that tops them all is simply known in Detroit as the “1990 escapee”.

25 years ago on a windy Thanksgiving morning the 40 foot Chilly Willy balloon came loose and broke free from his moorings, floating away to the delight of a cheering crowd that chanted “Fly Chilly Fly” as he drifted toward Canada and eventually out of sight. The 40 foot tall, wayward penguin was soon spotted by startled commercial aircraft pilots at an altitude of about 5000 feet, which must have been quite a sight. Chilly was found the next afternoon by the Coast Guard in the water (where penguins like to go) near Walpole Island in Lake St. Clair, Canada some 25 miles from home!

Note: According to the Detroit Free Press, this was the first time a balloon every escaped the Detroit Thanksgiving Parade.


Although he didn’t really look like the classic Chilly Willy here is Chilly right before he made a break for it in 1990.

Although he didn’t really look like the classic Chilly Willy here is Chilly right before he made a break for it in 1990.

Sources :

Penguins Can Fly!“, Penguin Place Post, November 23, 2015.

Penguin on the Loose, Detroit Free Press, November 23, 1990.

1990: How Art Van Elsander Saved Detroit’s Thanksgiving Parade
Nov 26 all-day

On a day dedicated to gratitude and family, furniture mogul Art Van Elslander is especially grateful this year for an on-the-spot decision he made 25 years ago to save a beloved Detroit tradition: the Thanksgiving Day parade.

As the parade was on the brink of being canceled in 1990, after losing its primary sponsor and facing other problems, Van Elslander made a decision. He’d write a personal check for $200,000 to keep the parade going. It stopped a downward spiral for the parade, now in its 89th year, and started a new era of stability.

“I’ve been asked did I ever question at any time whether I would do it again. Never,” says Van Elslander, 85, patriarch of the Art Van furniture chain. “It’s probably one of the most gratifying things I’ve ever done. Because when you see the lives that you’ve been able to affect, it’s pretty cool.”

“Save” may seem like a big word, but Tony Michaels, president and chief executive officer of the Parade Company, which puts on the parades, says Van Elslander did, in fact, save the parade.

“In 1990, he saved the parade. And that act had positive repercussions for many years to come,” said Michaels.

And Art Van is continuing its commitment. This week, Van Elslander announced that he and the Parade Company had signed another three-year contract for Art Van to continue as the parade’s presenting sponsor through 2018.

The Michigan Thanksgiving Parade was founded in 1924. In 2013, when Art Van became the parade’s presenting sponsor, the name was changed to America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade presented by Art Van. It draws as many as 1 million spectators each year. About 800,000 people are expected to see the parade in person Thursday, fewer than usual, because of the M-1 construction.

But beloved as it may be, the parade hit hard times in 1980. Hudson’s stopped sponsoring it. In 1988, its troubles escalated when companies pulled their support after CBS-TV ended national coverage.

Van Elslander remembers eating breakfast in 1990 when he read a newspaper story that the parade was on the brink of being canceled. He said like most people, he thought, “Gee, that’s a shame” and continued on his way.

When he arrived at Art Van’s corporate offices in Warren that morning, his first meeting was with his advertising team. The topic of the parade possibly being canceled came up. Cathy DiSante, Art Van’s vice president of advertising, told Van Elslander that the company shouldn’t let it happen.

“I said, ‘Yeah, I know.’ They said, ‘No, we really shouldn’t let this happen.’ And I said, ‘What do you want me to do about it?’ just like that, honestly like that. They said, ‘It just shouldn’t happen. This is a Detroit tradition.’ ”

Van Elslander relented. He asked DiSante to make a few calls to see what he could do. The news wasn’t good.

“She came back and she said it’s the 11th hour,” Van Elslander remembers. “They don’t even want to talk to me. They’ve been promised so much by so many people that it’s either a check or it’s going down. It’s on the way down.”

The parade company needed a $200,000 check right away. Van Elslander’s eight-member team was adamant: Don’t let the parade go down.

“I thought about it and I just said, ‘This shouldn’t happen. I’ll write the check,’ ” Van Elslander said.

But the check was just beginning. Van Elslander said what he didn’t realize was how bad things really were — unpaid vendors and creditors, ineffective management, and other issues. And now he was involved.

“What I realized and what I didn’t pay any attention to previously is that the parade … is a business,” said Van Elslander. “And it takes money to run.”

Slowly, Van Elslander and the Parade Company began to make changes and rebuild. They created other events, such as the Hob Nobble Gobble fundraiser, to generate revenue and brought in a new board and management team. And other sponsors started to commit.

“It needed money,” said Van Elslander. “It needed systems. It needed everything. It was really broken.”

Michaels says Art Van’s commitment to the parade spurred other companies to get involved and lend their financial support. The Parade Company spent $1.9 million last year on the parade and related activities, according to federal IRS documents.

Today, more than 200 companies support the parade in some way.

Van Elslander showed “this is more important than some people thought,” said Michaels. “He sent a message.”

And while he wasn’t really involved in the parade before 1990, though he says he always enjoyed it, it’s now become a family tradition. He rides down three-mile route in a car separate from Art Van’s company float, joined by different celebrities each year. And for years, his 10 adult children and 31 grandchildren have been involved, often riding on floats.

“They look forward to it. They love it,” said Van Elslander.

His trick to staying warm: an electric blanket and hand warmers.

So as he starts down the parade’s three-mile route Van Elslander will be an especially reflective mood.

“The one thing it’s taught me is we take a lot of things for granted,” said Van Elslander. “We really do … At the time, what no one really realized if the parade goes, it goes down. People go out of business all the time. We just wouldn’t have had a parade. (But) I think about that each and every Thanksgiving Day when I ride that parade route, how thankful I am that I did it.”

For the full article, see Maureen Feighan, “Art Van Elslander ‘saved the parade’”, Detroit News, November 26, 2015.

2018 : Gobblers and the Gridiron – Detroit and Thanksgiving Football
Nov 26 all-day

It is hard to grow up in Michigan and not have at least seen or heard the Detroit Lions playing on Thanksgiving afternoon. Detroit has played in every Thanksgiving game since 1934. Like turkey, it’s a tradition. But why Detroit?

Detroit entered the National Football League in 1934.  A local radio executive, George A. Richards, had purchased the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans and moved them to Detroit. The Spartans were members of the NFL from 1930 to 1933.

Richards knew it was risky to schedule a game on Thanksgiving, but the new team needed to find it’s place alongside the Detroit Tigers (1901) and Redwings (1926).  By playing on Thanksgiving, the team had the nation’s attention.


Lions Versus Bears, 1934

On somewhat short notice, the Lions played the Chicago Bears at the University of Detroit stadium.  26,000 tickets were sold two weeks prior to the game.  Despite the fact that the Bears won the Turkey Day clash 19-16, the experience was a success.

In 1935, Richards signed up for the holiday game again.  This time, Detroit beat Chicago in a game that propelled them to win the 1935 NFL Championship — in their second year!  (The Tigers also won the World Series that year and the Redwings the Stanley Cup in 1936. Take that, Great Depression!).  The enthusiasm and success of the new organization’s Thanksgiving Day game sealed the tradition for Detroit, and that tradition has been in place ever since.

One of the biggest reasons Richards was able to secure a thanksgiving day game was because previous Detroit football teams had already laid the groundwork for his cause. Prior to the Lions first thanksgiving day game in 1934, five other Detroit football teams hosted the day as early as 1917.

In the late 1800’s, football programs would get together on thanksgiving day to toss the old pigskin around for the simplest of reasons, it was a holiday and everyone had the day off. The Michigan Wolverines and Chicago Maroons started a thanksgiving day tradition by playing each other on turkey day multiple times until the early 1900’s. From there, Detroit took over the day.

The earliest recorded NFL football game on Thanksgiving day was between the Canton Bulldogs and the Akron Pros in 1920. Just a short while later on that same day, the Detroit Heralds traveled to Dayton to take on the Triangles. Interesting names from an interesting time. What’s also interesting is that the Heralds weren’t technically a pro team.

Detroit Heralds

The Heralds were more of a club if anything. The results of the University of Detroit not fielding a squad. In my studies I found that despite the early records, this was not the Heralds first thanksgiving day game. They faced the Canton Bulldogs three years earlier in a losing effort as part of the Ohio league. While it wasn’t their first turkey game in 1920, it was however their last. The Heralds became defunct later that year. At least the name did.

Detroit Tigers

The early days of the NFL began that same year. Only at that time the league was called the American Professional Football Association. In 1921 the Heralds merged with the Buffalo All-Americans and became the Detroit Tigers. That’s right I said the Detroit Tigers. There was no association between the football team and the baseball team other than the former being named after the later.

The Tigers played one thanksgiving day game. coincidentally this was the first Detroit team to win a game on thanksgiving day as they defeated the Chicago Staleys in a shootout 7-6. After this win the team began to fall apart and lose its roster due to non-payment. The franchise shut down after the season. beginning a four year drought for Detroit football fans.

Detroit Panthers

In 1925 the Detroit Panthers were formed by Jimmy Conzelman. Interesting enough, Conzelman was the team’s owner, head coach and starting quarterback. That’s the way things went back then. Like the Heralds, the Panthers did not last long in what was now being called the NFL. They were lucky enough to become the first Detroit football team to host a Thanksgiving day game. In fact they hosted the first two. Unfortunately both were losses and the team deactivated in 1926.

Detroit Wolverines

In 1928 the Detroit Wolverines became the final Detroit football team not named the Lions to host a Thanksgiving day game. The Wolverines are interesting story about a team of players that had played for the Cleveland Bulldogs the year before. The team was purchased and immediately deactivated. With no place to go, some of the remaining players got together and formed the Detroit Panthers. They played one season in Detroit which included a Thanksgiving day win over the vaunted Dayton Triangles 33-0. The team would be purchased the next year by the New York Giants. A move that absolved most of the Wolverines best players, most notably their starting quarterback.

Five years later the rest is all history. The Lions played their first game on Thanksgiving against the Chicago Bears and never looked back. Many question why the Lions should continue to host this game after years of futility. The answer is simple. This isn’t a Lions tradition, this is a Detroit tradition.

Season Finale by Mark Swanson

Ford Field, Home of the Lions


Mike Payton, “Thanksgiving football in Detroit goes back farther than you think“, Fansided, November 25, 2015.

Why do the Detroit Lions always play on Thanksgiving?“, YahooSports, November 21, 2012.

Mark Harvey, “Seeking Michigan : Gobblers and The Gridiron“, Absolute  Michigan, November 23, 2010.

2018 : Happy Thanksgiving (Date Varies)
Nov 26 all-day

We hope that you are all having a wonderful Thanksgiving where ever you are. The U.S. Government hopes so as well -— and has a page of interesting Thanksgiving information. It has facts and statistics (859 million pounds of cranberries!), alternative ways to cook your turkey (you can deep fat fry a whole turkey!), and recipes from famous Americans (Mrs. Truman’s mac and cheese sounds delicious or maybe you want to try Mamie Eisenhower’s million dollar fudge).

Mmmm, you can almost smell the turkey roasting. Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and millions of Americans are making plans to visit friends and family for the holiday. Sure, the travel can be a hassle, but when you put it in perspective — say, over the course of half a century — it’s safe to say the tradition is worth the trouble.

Consider, for example, the Travelers — John, Jane and the twins — a family of four who are about to hop in the car and head to Grandma’s. It’s a 100-mile trip each way; there will be dinner for 10 with all the fixings; and because Grandma and Grandpa like their postprandial privacy, a night in a hotel.

More Thanksgiving Trivia : Over the River and Through the Woods to Grandmother’s House; Travel, Food, Lodging : What Does It Really Cost?

10 Alternative Ways to Cook A Turkey

Bess Truman’s Mac and Cheese

Mamie Eisenhower’s Million Dollar Fudge

White House Recipes : Favorite Presidential Meals

Food Timeline : American President’s  Favorite Foods

Thanksgiving Holiday 2016 and 2017

2018 : Thanksgiving and Mary Had a Little Lamb (Date Varies)
Nov 26 all-day

 Portrait of Sarah Hale, 1831, by James Reid Lambdin, by Painted by James Reid Lambdin (1807-1889) , Richards Free Library, Newport, New Hampshire, Public Domain.

Do you enjoy Thanksgiving? Can you say the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb?” What do they both have in common? Sarah Hale.

Sarah was born Sarah Buell on October 24, 1788, in Newport, New Hampshire. Sarah was schooled at home. Her brother went to Dartmouth, but he shared his books with her. Sarah began teaching school in her hometown when she was 18.

In 1813, she married David Hale. The two of them formed a literary group. This group would meet to discuss books and articles from newspapers and magazines. Sarah and David had five children (three sons and two daughters). In 1822, after David died, Sarah started writing to support herself and her children.

Sarah wrote the book Northwood, a Tale of New England in 1827. The book sold very well. Sarah was asked to become an editor for the Ladies Magazine and Literary Gazette in Boston. This magazine contained essays, fiction stories and fashion plates (pictures of women’s fashion). Sarah agreed and moved her family to Boston.

In 1826, Louis Godey asked Sarah to become the editor of his magazine, Godey’s Lady’s Book in Philadelphia. This well-known magazine published stories by famous authors like Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It also included articles about health and beauty, cooking, gardening, and house plans that could be copied by builders.

She wrote a book called Poems for Our Children, in which “Mary Had a Little Lamb” first appeared. She also helped to raise funds to erect a monument at Bunker Hill and to save Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home.

In the 1800s, Thanksgiving was celebrated on different days throughout the 30 states and U.S territories. Sarah Hale believed that every state should celebrate Thanksgiving on the same day. In 1837, she began her quest to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. She wrote editorials in magazines and newspapers.

For 26 years she promoted her cause, even writing letters to every sitting President asking him to make Thanksgiving a fixed national holiday. But President Millard Fillmore, President Franklin Pierce and President James Buchanan all said “no.”

Letter from Sarah Hale to President Lincoln Requesting Thanksgiving Proclamation

On September 28, 1863, Sarah wrote to President Abraham Lincoln, and he said yes! On October 3, 1863, President Lincoln issued a proclamation to Americans, to celebrate Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in November.

Sarah was editor at Godey’s until she retired in 1877, at the age of 89. On April 30, 1879, Sarah Hale died at the age of 90. She is buried in the Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.

When you get together with your family for Thanksgiving, remember to thank Sarah Hale.

Sources :

Julie Straub, “Thanksgiving and Mary Had a Little Lamb”, Awesome Stories, November 6, 2015; updated November 25, 2015.

Carole D. Bos, “Thanksgiving Becomes a National Holiday”, Awesome Stories, November 27, 2014, updated November 17, 2015.

2018 : Who Celebrated the First Thanksgiving?
Nov 26 all-day

If you guessed “Plymouth Colonists,” you might be surprised. These celebrations predate the Plymouth colonists and their feast of gratitude in 1621 —

In May 1541, Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado and 1,500 men celebrated at the Palo Dur Canyon — located in the modern-day Texas Panhandle — after their expedition from Mexico City in search of gold. In 1959 the Texas Society Daughters of the American Colonists commemorated the event as the “first Thanksgiving.”

Another “first Thanksgiving” occurred on June 30, 1564, when French Huguenot colonists celebrated in a settlement near Jacksonville, Florida. This “first Thanksgiving,” was later commemorated at the Fort Carolina Memorial on the St. Johns River in eastern Jacksonville.

The harsh winter of 1609-1610 generated a famine that caused the deaths of 430 of the 490 settlers. In the spring of 1610, colonists in Jamestown, Virginia, enjoyed a Thanksgiving service after English supply ships arrived with food. This colonial celebration has also been considered the “first Thanksgiving.” (Source: Library of Congress — Wise Guide)

First Thanksgiving in Massachusetts

“In 1620, the area from Narragansett Bay in eastern Rhode Island to the Atlantic Ocean in southeastern Massachusetts, including Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, was the home of a village people who called themselves the Pokanoket …”

The “First Thanksgiving” celebrated by the Plymouth Colonists was based on customs that the immigrants brought with them. The Indian contribution to the event was the menu. Roast wild duck, goose and turkey, venison made into pies with corn meal crusts, were Indian food. The robust ale, made from their one successful English crop of barley was the main non-native food. The three day feast symbolizes a rarely achieved relationship of peaceful coexistence between Indians and Europeans in the 17th century. (Source: National Museum of American Indians — Harvest Ceremony: Study Guide)

For more information, visit You Are the Historian: Investigating the First Thanksgiving sponsored by the Plimoth Plantation Museum : Learn about being a historian by investigating the cultures of the Wampanoag Indians and the pilgrim colonists at the first Thanksgiving feast. (Flash is required.)

2018: Turkey Day College Football
Nov 26 all-day

What’s Thanksgiving without a football game? Football games played on Thanksgiving Day date back to 1876, when Yale and Princeton began an annual tradition of playing each other. The University of Michigan also made it a tradition to play annual Thanksgiving games, participating in 19 such games from 1885 to 1905. The Thanksgiving Day games between Michigan and Amos Alonzo Stagg’s University of Chicago Maroons in the 1890s have been cited as the true beginning of Thanksgiving Day football.

Before the final game of the 1898 season, Chicago was 9-1-1 and Michigan was 9-0; so the game between the two teams in the Windy City would decide the third Western Conference championship . Michigan won, 12-11, on November 24, 1898, capturing the program’s first conference championship in a game that inspired student Louis Elbel to compose Michigan’s fight song, “The Victors.”

Hail, hail to Thanksgiving Day.

Hail to the Victors : The Story of Michigan Fighting Song

Sojourner Truth Day
Nov 26 all-day

Sojourner Truth  Day was established as November 26th of each yer by the Michigan Legislature.

MCL 435.361

The Michigan legislature recognizes the fundamental contribution Sojourner Truth made to the cause of abolition of slavery and the establishment of equal rights for women and to several other significant social reform and human justice movements in the nineteenth century.  Truth toured the nation for over 40 years as a forceful and passionate advocate for the dispossessed, using her quick wit and fearless tongue to deliver her message of equality and justice.  She lived in Battle Creek, Michigan, from 1857 until her death on November 26, 1883.  Empowered by her religious faith, the former slave worked tirelessly for many years to transform national attitudes and institutions.  According to Nell Painter, Princeton professor and Truth biographer, “No other woman who had gone through the ordeal of slavery managed to survive with sufficient strength, poise, and self-confidence to become a public presence over the long term”.  Designating Sojourner Truth Day in the state of Michigan will not only acknowledge the importance of this national figure in the antislavery and human justice movements, but will also recognize her strong ties to the state during her 26 years of residence here.  In recognition of this great woman, the legislature declares November 26 of each year to be known as “Sojourner Truth Day”.