Tag Archives: thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Tradition (the year I learned the true meaning of Thanksgiving)


My informant is my father who comes from a southern family, although he was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. I asked him for any holiday traditions he could think of aside from the ones that I am a part of and I thought of a story he told me about one of our family members a while back and thought it would be perfect. So here is what he said:


“At 16 years old, I didn’t fully understand the meaning of Thanksgiving. To me, it was just a day of eating lots of food with family and friends. But when I moved to Connecticut, my grandmother Ruby showed me the true meaning of the holiday. On Thanksgiving Day, Ruby spent a whole week preparing dinner and wrapping several plates of food in foil. I didn’t understand why she was doing this until she explained that we were going to give the food to people who were less fortunate than us. We drove to a city building where Ruby distributed the plates of food to people living on the streets. Seeing their gratitude and smiles made me realize that Thanksgiving was not just about feasting with family and friends, but also about giving back to the community. From then on, I made a commitment to give back every Thanksgiving, and the lesson my grandmother taught me stayed with me for life.”


From what I know about the origins of Thanksgiving, it started with the Pilgrims in the 1600s. During this time a harvest feast was shared between two groups of people to celebrate an expedition. I am not sure where the turkeys came into play, but that’s not the point of this story.

I too had the issue of not truly understanding the meaning Thanksgiving, but then my father told me this story and through movies and everything else its a time to show others you are grateful towards them and to openly express kindness to others. I enjoy this holiday for the food especially, so it is sad think about the people who do not get to enjoy it. Over the years, I feel Thanksgiving has strayed away from its roots a little bit, but I think the true meaning behind the holiday is to put aside differences for a day to celebrate being grateful and kind to each other.

Something that also comes to mind is the fact that this was my fathers grandmother who if I’m correct is from Texas. I say this because I think of the phrase “Southern Hospitality”. That and maybe things were different and there was more of a community dynamic, something more old school. People are still kind today, but I believe it is important to see more of that during Thanksgiving.

The Wishbone of Thanksgiving Dinner

The informant is a 20-year-old man who lives in California. When asked about tradition on holidays, he told the collector about the wishbone tradition that he and his family have.

Collector: Can you tell me some traditions that you and your family do on holidays?

Informant: Well, the only thing I can think of right now is the wishbone.

Collector: Ok tell me about that.

Informant: When you carve the turkey during Thanksgiving dinner, you take the wishbone… this specific v-shape chest bone out and put it in a cup to dry completely, which usually would be the case after a day or two. After it’s completely dried, two people get to pull each side of the bone and whoever gets the bigger piece gets to make a wish. I remember I wished for a lot of money one time when I was in middle school.

The wishbone tradition on Thanksgiving is a common practice in American households. The informant describes the specific tradition in his family that involves drying the bone and the idea of who has the right to make a wish. There are a lot of variations of this tradition: for instance, two people should wish at the same time and whoever gets the bigger piece will have their wish granted (see this article for reference). The wishbone tradition came from Etruscans hoping to gain divine power through the wishbone and Romans decided to crack the bones so everyone can have a piece (see this article for reference). It is interesting to see the European tradition of cracking the wishbone migrate across the Atlantic Ocean and blend into the American Holiday of Thanksgiving.

Turning on of the Plaza Lights


My informant, from Kansas City Missouri, describes a Thanksgiving tradition in his town: “Every Thanksgiving night, Kansas City has a big thing which is the turning on of the Plaza lights. We have a big sorta commercial area/cultural center called the Plaza and they have like a million Christmas lights that stay on from November through January. But when they turn on it’s a big thing and often we try to get a local Kansas City or Missouri celebrity to do it.”


“I think it’s a source of local pride, I mean the Plaza is an important place in Kansas City and the fact that we try to get native celebrities shows that desire. There’s also like a commercial element with drawing in people and making it a big event in an area full of shops also during a time of year with shopping and stuff. It has a similar but lesser energy to like Rockefeller tree in my mind of like creating a spectacle for the holidays.”


The importance of this spectacle is that it allows the group to create a spectacle that brings pride for their town. Perhaps the people of this town want there to be something that they have that other towns may not, emphasizing what it is that makes them special. They focus on the celebrities from the town, perhaps as a way of elevating the social status of the town as a whole.

Wish Bone


The informant is one of my close friends who I remembered telling me about this tradition around 10 years ago when we were kids. He practiced this tradition every thanksgiving with his family after carving their thanksgiving turkey. I reached out to the informant to get some more insight and background on the tradition and hear from him about the significance it holds to him and his family.

Main Piece:

The tradition involves removing the ‘wish bone’ of the thanksgiving turkey after carving it on thanksgiving. They then set the wishbone out to dry for a few days. The bone is in sort of a Y shape. After the bone dries, two people wish for something they want to happen and then stand across from one another. The bone is then grabbed on each handle of the Y shape by those who made their wish. The two participants then pull the bone apart, and whoever ends up with the longer end of the wishbone is said to have their wish come true.


The informant learned this tradition from his parents and would practice it every thanksgiving with his older brother. It was one of the most meaningful and exciting parts of Thanksgiving for the informant and something he looked forward to every year. He is a Caucasian male of protestant faith and stated that his parents had taught him the tradition and learned it from their parents. He stated that his parents had both been practicing it with their respective families every year since they were children.


This tradition immediately made me think of a trope that goes “How did I end up with the short end of the stick”. In this trope, the person who got the short end of the stick had something unfortunate happen to them or had to do something unpleasant. This saying implies that the person who did not end up with “the short end of the stick” must have been lucky or fortunate. In this wishbone tradition surrounding thanksgiving, it takes this trope to a literal level in which two people literally break apart a bone and one person ends up with a long end, and a short end. Similar to the “Short end of the stick” trope, this tradition involves the person ending up with the long end of the bone and getting their wish granted, while the other would be left with a short end of a bone.

The Turkey Bowl


BR: “Every year, we have the Turkey Bowl. It’s our annual Thanksgiving tradition.”

PAR: “What happens at the Turkey Bowl?”

BR: “Funny you should ask, because the same thing happens every year.”

PAR: “So you guys plan it out ahead of time?”

BR: “Nope. Virtually no planning goes into it whatsoever. We have a text group chat no one ever sends messages in and that’s about it.”

PAR: “Then how do you know what’s going to happen?”

BR: “We’ve been doing this for so long – the past 15 years I think but I really don’t remember how it started – and everyone just kind of knows what to expect.”

PAR: “And that is?”

BR: “Well we start off the morning by staking out our territory. We have always played on the same field and, no matter what time we show up, there is always a group ahead of us. As the group finishes up their game, the other families show up with the essentials: donuts, coffee, and beer. Eventually, the group ahead of us finishes and we get on the field. It is at this point that the C family shows up. They always arrive late – like clockwork. We pick teams and somehow they always end up the same. From there, cousin J insists on kicking off the ball. He runs up to it and has the ball pulled out from under him Charlie Brown style. I kid you not, this has happened literally every single year for the past fifteen years.”

PAR: “You’re joking.”

BR: “Somehow I’m not (laugh). Anyways, the game goes on and aunt S shows up. Everyone always tells her to not come because she will get too cold, yet she does anyway. Just like we all said, she gets too cold and complains about the temperature. Then she yells at her kids for not wearing enough clothes. After making several remarks that the game should be over, she leaves. It is around this point that uncle Z thinks he is still a Division 1 athlete and sacrifices his body on a play. He totally hurts his knee and we have to help him off the field. Now the game is winding down. The last play always results in the game being a tie. From there, we go and kick field goals for 20 minutes before heading home to catch the tail end of the parade.”


BR lives in NJ with his family and has done the Turkey Bowl annually for the past 15 years. He claims that it is a way for all of the extended families to see each other on Thanksgiving before heading their separate ways. BR is unsure as to how the Turkey Bowl actually started; however, the ritual has managed to repeat itself every year since its inception.

My Interpretation:

I think it is extremely interesting that the same events have unfolded annually for the past 15 years without any outside intervention. I think this goes to show that people enjoy ritualistic tradition and will subconsciously and uniformly repeat themselves.