The introduction of football made the holiday more appealing to many men. By adding listening to an athletic contest to a feast, families recognized that popular entertainment on the radio enhanced the celebration. Listening to the game was not simply a new custom added to the family feast; it became a central attraction of the holiday for men. While the domestic occasion of the early nineteenth century represented the feminization of the middle-class home, radio broadcast of the game at Thanksgiving helped masculinize the domestic festival.
Elizabeth Pleck, “The Making of the Domestic Occasion: The History of Thanksgiving in the United States”, Journal of Social History 32, No. 4 (Summer 1999), 784.
What was lost on these devotees of the game was the irony in a family event, punctuated by (mostly) men listening to a game noted for its aggressive body contact, warlike language, male bonding, and the ability of contestants to withstand pain. There had always been gender segregation at the Thanksgiving meal, with men talking to other men, and women conversing with women before and after the meal. As women in the kitchen washed the dishes, and men listened to the game, one could recognize that women (willingly) gave up their leisure, and that men and children benefitted from female sacrifice. Men and women also occupied separate spaces in the home on Thanksgiving, although it was easier for a woman to enter the living room where men were listening to the game than for a man to don an apron and help in the kitchen.
Encamping in the living room, men seemed to find solace in an all-male group, after having participated in an event so female in ambience. One function of football, even enjoyed vicariously, was to reaffirm men’s bonds with other men and their masculinity, to inject some manliness into the sentimentality. Sons, listening to the game with their fathers, were learning the rules of male sociability – and being weaned away from their mothers. Listening to football was an additional masculine element that followed the ritual of carving the turkey, man the gladiator side by side with man the hunter. As such, the football game on Thanksgiving Day provided an added symbolic statement about the difference between the genders.
Elizabeth Pleck, “The Making of the Domestic Occasion: The History of Thanksgiving in the United States”, Journal of Social History 32, No. 4 (Summer 1999), 782-783.
…several changes have occurred in American Thanksgiving Day celebrations in their more than 350-year history. Few households now serve mince pie, a onetime tradition. The focus on hunting and wild game is reduced (Ramsey 1979); the emphasis on the bounty of agriculture has increased. Churchgoing is now rare. Prayer persists for some but is combined or replaced with a more secular meal-opening toast for many. The home-centered, active family games that were once prevalent (Applebaum 1984) are often replaced by the passive spectacle of professional sports and nationally broadcast parades hosted by department stores and filled with commercial floats. Hosting by the grandparent’s household is giving way to hosting by the middle generation. And, most directly important for an understanding of contemporary consumer culture, a profusion of branded products rather than foods produced by the household are consumed. Through taken-for granted acceptance of changes, participants perceive universalism in their celebrations when, in fact, the praxis of their feasting is particular to contemporary times and household groups.
Melanie Wallendorf & Eric J. Arnold, “‘We Gather Together’: Consumption Rituals of Thanksgiving Day”, The Journal of Consumer Research 18, No. 1 (June 1991), 24.
Lower-class men had been making merry and poking fun at their betters for centuries, on Thanksgiving and other holidays. In the late 1880s, the upper class developed its own form of misrule in their exuberance after Thanksgiving Day football games. An organization run by college students, the Intercollegiate Football Association, scheduled its first championship game on Thanksgiving Day in 1876. Two decades later the Chicago Tribune estimated that about 10,000 high school and college teams, and those of athletic clubs were playing football on Thanksgiving Day.
The Thanksgiving Day game was controversial from the beginning. Walter Camp, the “father” of modern football, argued that the fact that fans willingly gave up – or in some cases, postponed – their Thanksgiving dinner to cheer for their team showed the popularity of the game. To ministers and Ethelbret Warfield, president of Lafayette College, football on Thanksgiving desecrated “a great national feast-day.” Warfield regarded Thanksgiving as a day to give thanks to God for the blessings of “the Christian home” and “citizenship.” He believed that whooping college boys, storming theaters, starting fights at “saloons, dancehalls, and worse” were taking the first steps in a life of “temptation and vice.” The collegians were also getting themselves arrested, disrupting Broadway performances, and throwing beer mugs and glasses at high-stepping showgirls. In 1894, Ivy League college presidents, embarrassed by all this, shifted the day of the season-ending game to the Saturday before Thanksgiving, moved the location from Manhattan to college grounds, and insisted that students return to campus after the game had finished.
Elizabeth Pleck, “The Making of the Domestic Occasion: The History of Thanksgiving in the United States”, Journal of Social History 32, No. 4 (Summer 1999), 777.
Macy’s parade, even in the 1920s, existed not in the shadow of the family feast or the church service, but in competition with the afternoon football game. Football was clearly the more significant of the two forms of out-of-home entertainment, as changes in the timing of Macy’s parade in the 1920s indicate. Initially Macy’s parade offended patriotic groups, who decried a spectacle on “a national and essentially religious holiday.” Macy’s hired a public relations man, who decided that the critics could be placated if the parade in the morning was postponed until at least after church services had ended. The parade, pushed back to the afternoon, began at the same time as the kickoff for most football games. Customers and football fans complained. By the late 1920s, Macy’s had returned to an early morning parade, presumably so as not to compete with afternoon football games.
Elizabeth Pleck, “The Making of the Domestic Occasion: The History of Thanksgiving in the United States”, Journal of Social History 32, No. 4 (Summer 1999), 782.