What Thanksgiving Looked Like When You Were Growing Up

Vintage Thanksgiving

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Vintage Thanksgiving
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Giving Thanks Through the Years

Americans have been celebrating Thanksgiving for longer than there has been a United States, and they've been recording the event in drawings, paintings, and photographs for nearly as long. Over the decades, the fashion and food has changed, but the tradition of giving thanks with family, friends, and other loved ones has been a constant. Take a look back at Thanksgivings through the years.

Related: Forget These Thanksgiving Myths 

Uncle Sam holds a large live turkey in a postcard entitled 'Thanksgiving Greetings'.
Hulton Archive/Stringer/Archive Photos/Getty Images


Postcards and greeting cards were just becoming popular in the U.S. around the time this witty card was published in the 1850s. Even then, the idea of Thanksgiving as a distinctly American holiday loomed as large as the turkey he's holding.

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Two soldiers break a wishbone after a Thanksgiving dinner during the Civil War
Three Lions/Stringer/Hulton Archive/Getty Images


In the thick of the Civil War, soldiers on both sides of the conflict celebrated Thanksgiving. Then, as now, breaking a turkey wishbone for good luck was considered a post-meal tradition. 

Related: Things You Didn't Know About Turkeys

Old photo of turkeys in Asheville, NC;
Old photo of turkeys in Asheville, NC; by State Archives of North Carolina (CC BY)


Residents of Asheville, North Carolina, gather downtown to gawk at the flock of turkeys that await their fate. No word on where the birds were bound, but we can imagine.

American actress Joan Crawford (1908 - 1977) carving a huge Thanksgiving turkey for a publicity shot.
General Photographic Agency/Stringer/Hulton Archive/Getty Images


Actress Joan Crawford appeared in her share of turkeys in Depression-era Hollywood, but regardless of the picture she herself always radiated movie star glamour. Crawford strikes a pose for a different kind of Hollywood turkey in this promotional still from the early 1930s.

Related: Depression-Era Thanksgiving Recipes That Are Actually Delicious

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
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The iconic Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade has been a holiday tradition since 1924, growing more and more elaborate with each passing year. By the mid-1930s, giant balloons shaped like whimsical characters had become the parade's main attraction.

Related: Fun Facts About the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade

A family sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, circa 1935.
FPG/Staff/Archive/Getty Images
American Thanksgiving Day at Westminster Abbey
Hulton Archive/Stringer/Archive Photos/Getty Images


On Nov. 26, Westminster Abbey in London opened its doors to U.S. soldiers for a nondenominational Thanksgiving celebration of prayers and hymns. It was the first such celebration in the 900-year history of the storied English church. 

A group of boys and girls, all displaced persons from Europe, waving their invitations to a Thanksgiving party held at the Tavern on the Green, Central Park
FPG/Staff/Archive/Getty Images


World War II displaced millions of people, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe, and many ended up in the United States as refugees. In 1948, a lucky few children displaced by war got invitations to celebrate Thanksgiving with dinner at Tavern on the Green in New York City.

Seminoles in Florida observe Thanksgiving Day with a meal that included wild turkey, venison, and (of course) pie.
State Library and Archives of Florida


Seminoles in Florida observe Thanksgiving Day with a meal that included wild turkey, venison, and (of course) pie. 

An American housewife, Mrs Boivin, bastes the Thanksgiving turkey while her two sons look on.
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A Thanksgiving parade in New York. Floating above the majorettes is a giant inflatable Popeye.
Express Newspapers/Stringer/Hulton Archive/Getty Images


Popeye the Sailor hovers over Times Square during the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. 

A boy and girl saying grace before a roast turkey dinner, circa 1970.
FPG/Staff/Archive/Getty Images
 Drinking buddies known as 'The Hollywood Vampires'
Michael Ochs Archives/Handout/ Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images


Celebrities did Thanksgiving differently from us common folk in the freewheeling '70s. From left, John Lennon celebrates singer Helen Reddy's performance at the Troubadour nightclub in Los Angeles on Nov. 21. Also on hand to watch Reddy sing were Lennon's partner in crime, Harry Nilsson, plus Alice Cooper and Mickey Dolenz of The Monkees.

Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach of the Dallas Cowboys looks for an open receiver downfield during the Cowboys 24-23 Thanksgiving Day victory over the Washington Redskins on November 28, 1974 at Texas Stadium in Irving, Texas.
Nate Fine/Contributor/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images North America


The NFL played its first Thanksgiving Day game in 1920, and the game has been a tradition ever since. The Dallas Cowboys have been annual participants since 1966. In 1974, behind quarterback Roger Staubach, America's Team eked out a 24-23 win against Washington.

A marching band moves down the street followed by a Sesame Street float as crowds look on from the sidelines during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
Hulton Archive/Staff/Getty Images


Gigantic balloons aren't the only attraction during the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. Elaborate floats, some with actors singing and dancing, are just as much a part of the spectacle. Big Bird and his pals from "Sesame Street" were (and are) parade regulars. 

Elderly Lady Feeding Turkeys on Farm
Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images


Where do all those Thanksgiving turkeys come from? Some come from the Livonia, Michigan, farm of Christine Roperti. Her family started raising the birds in the 1960s and were selling more than 3,000 annually by 1985.

Mike Tyson and Don King distribute turkeys for Thanksgiving Day
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Boxer Mike Tyson rocks the turtleneck as he and promoter Don King celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday by handing out frozen turkeys in New York City on Nov. 17.

Jeffrey Markowitz/Contributor/Sygma/Getty Images


Presidents have a long tradition of helping the less fortunate celebrate Thanksgiving. In 1993, President Bill Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton pitched in to help prepare a Thanksgiving meal in Washington, D.C.

Related: First Tastes: Favorite Foods of 21 U.S. Presidents

A giant balloon of Izzy, the olympic mascot, floats in the air at the 69th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade November 23, 1995
Evan Agostini/Contributor/Hulton Archive/Getty Images


Some characters in the Macy's annual Thanksgiving parade don't last more than a single year. Case in point, the quirky Izzy, mascot of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta.

David Schwimmer Helps Serve Food At The Los Angeles Mission For The Homel
Dan Callister/Staff/Hulton Archive/Getty Images


It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without making sure everyone gets fed, no matter where they are. "Friends" star David Schwimmer joined other celebrities to dish out some holiday cheer at the Los Angeles Mission for the Homeless on Nov. 24.

Butterball Turkey Talk-Line
Tim Boyle/Staff/Hulton Archive/Getty Images North America


A Thanksgiving tradition since 1981: Butterball's annual Turkey Talk hotline. In 2000, Phyllis Larson was one of 48 nutritionists and home economists who answered an estimated 170,000 calls during the season. Larson herself was an 11-year veteran of the hotline, which continues to this day.

Related: Deep-Fried Disasters and Other Thanksgiving Mistakes to Avoid

Katrina Evacuees Spend Thanksgiving Away From Home
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Kathy Curry and her family were one among thousands of New Orleans residents who were still homeless three months after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city. Evacuated to Camp Springs, Maryland, Curry and her family celebrated Thanksgiving in the hotel room that had been their home since leaving Louisiana.

Senior NCOs and officers serve food to Airmen during the Thanksgiving luncheon
U.S. Air Force


In a festive twist, officers serve enlisted personnel at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia during a Thanksgiving celebration on Nov. 21.

President Obama Pardons National Thanksgiving Turkey
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The tradition of presenting the president of the United States with a live Thanksgiving turkey (who is subsequently "pardoned" and spared the chopping black) dates back to at least the 1870s. President Barack Obama carried on the tradition happily.

Paradise, California Continues Recovery Efforts From The Devastating Camp Fire
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More than 18,000 Californians were left homeless in the wake of the devastating Camp Fire wildfires, which destroyed the town of Paradise and killed more than 80 people. As evacuees celebrated Thanksgiving in Chico, California, the wildfires continued to burn.

Holiday Shopping Season Begins As Shoppers Look For Deals On Black Friday
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Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, has traditionally been the start of the holiday shopping season. Cody and William Dunham of Lone Tree, Colorado, scored a deal on a TV. 

Grandmother adjust the surgical mask to her grandson during Christmas dinner.
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