An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving?


Thanksgiving clipartHappy Tuesday, everyone!

I’m sure most of you are aware that Thanksgiving this year falls on the latest date it can possibly be, much to the hand-wringing dismay of Christmas retailers.  And we’ve all been getting the “early Black Friday” emails and advertisements to prove it.

Have you ever noticed that when life gets hectic, traffic gets heavy, commercialism becomes more intrusive than usual, and patience wears thin – as often happens around the holidays – that we hanker for an “old-fashioned” version of the holiday?  I know I do.

So what would an old-fashioned Thanksgiving be like?  Most of us draw upon childhood memories in constructing that image.  (And of course as kiddos we didn’t have to worry about cooking, cleaning, or Uncle Fred’s antics after having a few too many).  We envision a slower pace, simple fare, family around us, catching our breaths, and being thankful.

Being the history junkie dilettante that I am, when I think “old-fashioned” I think of “old.”  So naturally I looked up early-twentieth century newspaper articles to share with you.

I think what will surprise you most is what we have in common with the people of those days in preparing for and celebrating Thanksgiving.  Yep – food, football, and shopping!  Today we’ll focus on the shopping, and then the next two Tuesdays we’ll talk about football and food.

Retailers from a hundred years ago were just as eager to entice holiday shoppers as they are today.  And they used the same tactics:  the SALE and the GIVEAWAY.

The Sale:

In this advertisement from the East Oregonian (Evening Edition), November 18, 1910, there are choices aplenty for budget-conscious shoppers:

image via Chronicling America, Library of Congress
image via Chronicling America, Library of Congress

Notice the food portion of the advertisement is just a teeny paragraph on the lower left side?  I was surprised it wasn’t more prominent.  In fact, it was similar in size to the Children’s Underwear section.  

Quick!  All of Johnny’s tighty-whities have holes in them, and Grandma’s coming over!  

But what’s with the bear skin?  Is that really what folks back then were running out to buy right before the Thanksgiving feast?

(Burt Reynolds may come to mind for some of us.  For you youngsters, if you Google “Burt Reynolds bear skin” you’ll see what I’m talking about).  

The Giveaway:

Even today, stores like to give away freebies to draw in shoppers.  What’s the best freebie at Thanksgiving time?  The turkey, of course.  According to this advertisement, Wentworth Clothing House made it a tradition:

The Spokane Press, November 17, 1910 (via Chronicling America, Library of Congress).
The Spokane Press, November 17, 1910 (via Chronicling America, Library of Congress).

After all, who can resist a free turkey?

Speaking of giving away free turkeys, I’d like to leave you with a clip from WKRP in Cincinnati.  I think you’ll get a kick out of it!


Until next time, keep those turkeys grounded.


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19 thoughts on “An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving?”

  1. August McLaughlinAugust McLaughlin

    Food and kids’ underwear had equal coverage?!? (Whoops! No pun intended. ;)) That’s craziness, yet not all that surprising. Great post, Kathy! Hope you and yours have a wonderful Turkey Day.

  2. Margot KinbergMargot Kinberg

    Kathy – Oh, that WKRP episode is absolutely classic! Thanks for the reminder. And you know it does give me an odd sense of comfort that those folks had to deal with ad-bombardment just as we do….

  3. Kassandra LambKassandra Lamb

    One of the greatest sitcom lines of all times: I thought turkeys could fly! Thanks for the laughs, Kathy.

  4. Karen McFarlandKaren McFarland

    LOL, WKRP in Cincinnati. Wow, that took me back. That show was hilarious. I had forgotten about it. Thanks for sharing Kathy. 🙂

  5. Amy KennedyAmy Kennedy

    Loved that show! And I don’t know why! but it makes me feel better about our society today that even back in the good old days retailers were using holidays as promotion.

  6. Julie GloverJulie Glover

    Well, you don’t have to explain the Burt & bear skin reference to me. LOL! Thanks for sharing a little Thanksgiving history! This one is my favorite holiday.

  7. PatriciaPatricia

    I used to love WKRP. That was a great show.

    So, shopping and Thanksgiving have always gone hand in hand, huh? Who knew? Poor old Thanksgiving is practically wiped off the calendar these days. I saw my first Christmas commercial on TV before halloween this year. I cringed. It’s not right.

    The only thing folks look forward to at Thanksgiving is having 4 days off in a row. So many people eat out these days, it’s sad. I usually cook a big meal even if it’s just for me and my husband. It doesn’t seem right to eat out on Thanksgiving.

    Oh well. It’s a sad state of affairs.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  8. Emma BurcartEmma Burcart

    That was really fun to read. I had no idea that the people of the past were such consumers! I would have imagined they didn’t go holiday shopping like we do. Who knew! The thing I remember most about Thanksgiving is being in the kitchen with my parents, eating yummy food all day long, and spending the weekend in our pajamas watching movies. Fun times!

  9. PhilPhil

    This is great. Love the old ads. Seems they were all looking to make those holiday dollars too. Still, I’m sure there was no Black friday craziness or stores open on Thanksgiving back then.

  1. An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving, pt 2: Football

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