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Thanksgiving History – The Ragamuffin Parade


The Ragamuffins in the early 1900’s. Photo from Library of Congress

Over the years Thanksgiving has become associated with many traditions, including turkey, football, parades and of course Black Friday. Today I’m going to talk about the history of two of these.
Last fall I was listening to NPR when I heard an interesting bit of trivia on “America’s Test Kitchen.” I don’t normally listen to cooking shows, especially not in the car, because they make me hungry! This topic caught my interest though, because they were talking to some historians about the origin of Thanksgiving parades. Those of you from New York City have probably heard of the Ragamuffin Parade, a Thanksgiving tradition from early in the 20th Century. It was like Halloween in November, with children dressing up in costumes and begging for candy and pennies. The practice died out during the Great Depression of the 1930’s, when the spectators couldn’t afford to be so generous. But these early parades served as an inspiration for the elaborate spectacles we now watch on TV. Macy’s Department Store, in a brilliant marketing move, conceived of the parade as a way to kick off the Christmas shopping season. Though the store was, as always, closed on Thanksgiving tens of thousands of people filed by Macy’s and saw their elaborate window displays. The next day became a shopping frenzy. So it sounds like we can blame Macy’s for starting the insanity we call Black Friday. To someone like me who grew up in North Dakota, the idea of having parades in November seemed kind of crazy because of the weather. New York can be almost as cold, and sometimes much snowier. Though I hear that many towns in that state still have parades for the ragamuffins, they got smart and moved them up to October.
Photo from Library of Congress. See more about the ragamuffins here.  And speaking of Black Friday, make sure to take advantage of my 99 cent ebook specials on Amazon.

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