How Will We Celebrate Thanksgiving in Years to Come?

Looking back into the past is what we do for our clients every day. To be sure, we love it. We’re always learning something new – and not just about what happened in the past, but about what that means for today as well as for tomorrow.

For example, next week, we’ll be huddled around tables in the homes of our family and friends, gobbling down turkey along with the rest of the country. Like you, we’ll be trying to control the forkfuls of creamy mashed potatoes and slices of thick, silky pumpkin pie we bring to our lips. We might even playfully argue with our family members over when to eat – before, after, or during the Dallas game?

But so much of what we’ll eat and do next Thursday won’t look anything like the Thanksgiving celebrations of yesteryear. Potatoes and pie weren’t featured on the menu put together by the Pilgrims and Wampanoag at Plymouth. And we’re pretty sure that no one was rushing through their families’ feast back in the day in order to line up outside the nearest Best Buy or Target in anticipation of the swinging Black Friday deals.

How do we know? The historical record, of course, which is compiled from all types of documentation ranging from Presidential proclamations, to old letters, to food menus. From it, we know that in 1621 two cultures united in thanks of a bountiful harvest and feasted together for three days. By 1863, the annual one day celebration observed by many states was sanctioned into law by President Lincoln. In 1939, President Roosevelt used the holiday not as a way to unite the country like Lincoln had done in the midst of the Civil War, but as a way to encourage early holiday shopping to boost the economy during the Great Depression.

A hearty meal has been the hallmark of the holiday for several centuries, but clearly the day has evolved and taken on new traditions. This makes us wonder: how will Americans mark the occasion in years to come?

As the numbers of vegetarians rise and more and more turkeys receive Presidential pardons, we wonder if the tofurkey will eventually take center stage on the average American family dinner table. Probably not, but maybe all turkeys will be grass-fed and organic in the future. Or, maybe the turducken will overtake the turkey in terms of popularity. Side dishes will certainly change as families incorporate healthier foods or new takes on old favorites.

President George H. Bush pardons a turkey in 1989, starting a yearly tradition.  Source: NARA/George Bush Presidential Library.

President George H. Bush pardons a turkey in 1989, starting a yearly tradition. Source: NARA/George Bush Presidential Library.

With the controversies associated with college and professional football these days, we wonder if we’ll be shoulder-to-shoulder on the couch watching some other sport on some even flatter type of screen in the future. Thanksgiving Day football games have been played since the late 1800s and NFL games have been televised since 1956, but by the late 2000s we could be cheering on our favorite video gamers. Laugh all you want, but 32 million people watched the “League of Legends” championship online last year, which is a few thousand more than the number of people who tuned into last year’s televised Raiders and Cowboys Thanksgiving Day game.

Will shopping one day overshadow this great American holiday? Cynics might argue that it already does. In a way they’re right, but this isn’t a recent phenomenon. The shopping extravaganza that occurs on Black Friday – a sport in itself some would say – harks back to the days when department stores would throw parades and unleash their discounted wares on to the masses on the Friday following Thanksgiving. The Macy’s parade has been going on since 1924. Where are all the other store parades these days? In a decade or two, the midnight store openings and crazy crowds we’ve grown accustomed to might be a thing of the past. Some stores now open on Thanksgiving Day. Plus, more holiday shopping gets done from the warmth and safety of our homes these days while more retailers unveil their discounts as early as Halloween.

What do you think? How might Thanksgiving look different in the years to come? We’d love to hear your predictions.