Turkey Traditions–Are They For The Birds?

Say Thanksgiving, and the first thing that pops into one’s mind is turkey. A traditional Thanksgiving meal features a turkey front and center. But eating turkey on Thanksgiving isn’t the only turkey tradition Americans observe. Let’s gobble down some information on other turkey traditions.

Once the featured bird has been carved, a carcass is left. This remnant can only mean one thing–the wishbone must be found! A familiar turkey tradition is snapping the wishbone in two following a meal; the individual with the bigger of the two pieces supposedly will have his wish come true.

How in the world did we end up so focused on a little bone? The answer dates back thousands of years to the ancient Etruscans. They believed birds could predict the future, so they’d pick up bird bones, stroke them, and make wishes on them. When the Romans came along they modified the practice from stroking the bones to breaking them. Apparently chickens were in short supply, so two Romans would pull on one wishbone to break it into two pieces so they’d each have a bone. The Romans spread this practice to the British Isles as their empire grew. When English settlers came to the New World, so did their wishbone practices. With wild turkeys in abundance in their new digs, the settlers switched from chicken bones to turkey bones.

So breaking a wishbone is historical, fun (except for the turkey donating the bone), and potentially fulfilling (if your wish comes true). I’d say that this turkey tradition should get a thumbs up.

A turkey shoot is another turkey tradition. It’s a shooting contest in which frozen turkeys are awarded as prizes. Participants fire shotguns at paper targets 25-35 yards away. These events are popular in rural areas and are often held in November to coincide with Thanksgiving.

In their original form turkey shoots weren’t pretty, PC, or humane. Instead of shooting at paper targets, participants would shoot at actual turkeys. In some instances turkeys were tied down in a pen and shot at from 25-35 yards. If a turkey died, its dead body was awarded as a prize to the shooter. In other instances, turkeys were buried in the snow up to their necks. The object was for a participant to shoot the turkey’s bobbing head from 100 yards away.

This turkey tradition definitely gets a thumbs down from me. Although no animals are harmed in the current version of the turkey shoot, deadly weapons, competition, and noise are involved. I’d prefer to think of Thanksgiving as a time of love, peace, and unity instead.

A more recent turkey tradition for some Americans is feasting on a turducken at Thanksgiving. Americans want to supersize everything so why should turkey be left out? A turducken is fancier than a plain old turkey; it is made with three different kinds of meat whose names are combined to form the word turducken–TURkey, DUCk, and chicKEN. To make a turducken, a deboned chicken is stuffed in a deboned duck which is in turn stuffed into a deboned turkey. Layers of stuffing are placed between the birds.

Turduckens are most often associated with New Orleans and Cajun cuisine. The late Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme claims to have invented this dish. And you’d pretty much have to be a chef to make his version of a turducken. Prudhomme’s recipe calls for 30 ingredients and 8 hours of cooking.

Turducken is a modern turkey tradition which would get a thumbs down from me. Simple pleasures are the best, and you just can’t beat a simple turkey baked for Thanksgiving. Why mess with success? In addition, if you used Chef Prudhomme’s recipe, who’d have time to make the required side dishes like mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, etc.?

One turkey tradition requires Thanksgiving celebrants to push back from their dinner tables and get off their couches to participate. It’s a turkey trot! A turkey trot is a footrace held on or around Thanksgiving Day. The oldest documented ongoing turkey trot in the U.S. is an annual event in Buffalo, NY. which has been held continuously since 1896. Seems like that event should be called a Buffalo Trot since it occurs in Buffalo and no turkeys are involved.

In Florida the Tampa Bay Times Turkey Trot occurs on Thanksgiving Day in Clearwater. This family-friendly annual event boasts over 17,000 registrants. Races are offered for different skill levels including walkers, recreational runners, and competitive runners. Proceeds from the turkey trot benefit local charities.

A turkey trot is a turkey tradition which gets an enthusiastic thumbs up from me. Participating in such event is much healthier than consuming thousands of calories while sitting at your dining room table and then playing couch potato the rest of the day. And raising money for charity by trotting on Thanksgiving is just the whipped cream on the pumpkin pie.

The final turkey tradition to consider is leftovers. For some, the leftovers from Thanksgiving are more anticipated than the original feast itself. Therefore, turkeys are often purchased which will provide not only meat for the holiday meal but for leftovers thereafter.

And how will those leftovers be eaten? A popular choice is a turkey sandwich, particularly the Thanksgiving Leftover Sandwich which contains various leftovers besides turkey.  A classic sandwich combination is turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and gravy between two slices of bread.This sandwich has become a year-round menu item in New England where it is referred to as the Pilgrim or the Gobbler.

Leftovers get a double thumbs up as a turkey tradition. After spending days preparing for and cooking a large Thanksgiving feast, who wants to cook more? Heating up leftovers or making a turkey leftover sandwich is a smart move for tired hostesses. Even better, leftovers taste terrific and are readily available.

Some turkey traditions, like turkey shoots and turduckens, are turkeys. We could end those traditions, and I’d be thankful. Other turkey traditions such as breaking a wishbone, a turkey trot, and leftovers are positive traditions which we should be thankful to keep. Regardless of what your turkey traditions are, it’s comforting to have Thanksgiving traditions you observe on a yearly basis. But being thankful should be a daily habit and not a once a year event.

Just WONDER-ing:

What turkey traditions do you observe? Have you ever participated in a turkey shoot? A turkey trot? Have you ever eaten turducken? If not, would you want to try it? What’s your favorite Thanksgiving leftover?






2 thoughts on “Turkey Traditions–Are They For The Birds?

  1. Tallahassee has a Turkey Trot too in which my nephew and his daughters run, and I ran one when I lived in Marietta, GA. We have a family tradition that started quite naturally as I have three sons. After dinner, they go out into the street in front of our house (no traffic there) after dinner and throw the football back and forth, seeing how far they can throw it.


    1. I’m not a runner or a trotter; I’m a walker. Haven’t seen any local turkey trots to participate in, although I have seen a sign for a Jingle Bell Jog. Thanksgiving is a great day for throwing the football, but I prefer to watch others do it. Happy Thanksgiving, Marilyn.


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