Thanksgiving Maskers: A Forgotten Thanksgiving Tradition

The once revered-now consumer targeted-American holiday of Thanksgiving is upon us, and I’m looking forward to *fingers crossed* a few days where I can relax and enjoy myself. I certainly won’t be heading out on Thanksgiving Day, nor on Black Friday, and this is where I differ from the youth of the early 1900s.  In the 1890s, an overwhelming population of young boys plagued the streets on Thanksgiving Day, miming the homeless of years and centuries before.  Much like our Halloween, the holiday brought about silliness, revelry, and a lot of mischief!

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, c. 1900.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, c. 1910.

Thanksgiving maskers, c. 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Thanksgiving maskers, c. 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Teenage boys, girls, and sometimes older individuals would dress up and head door to door, dressed as over the top beggars, sailors, cowboys, or cross-dressed as girls.  Dough masks, or false faces, and sheer veils were extremely popular. In fact, the Los Angeles Times of Nov. 21, 1897, stated that Thanksgiving was “the busiest time of the year for the manufacturers of and dealers in masks and false faces. The fantastical costume parades and the old custom of making and dressing up for amusement on Thanksgiving day keep up from year to year in many parts of the country, so that the quantity of false faces sold at this season is enormous.”

With their rags and false faces on, many kids snuck out the back door to join in on the fun.  Parading down the streets, the ragamuffins begged for candy, a toy, or a penny, yelling “Anything for Thanksgiving?”   Local shops opened for the revelry, making heaps of money as the people came out to see the parades of masked children running through the streets.

Thanksgiving Maskers, c. 1910.  Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Thanksgiving Maskers, c. 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

As you can imagine, this tradition was highly looked down upon by America’s elite, who enjoyed the tradition and the austere history behind the day.  Groups attempted to bring order to the parading youth, and Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is an off-shoot of some of these masked parades, which started in 1924.

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1 Comment

Filed under 1900s, 1910s, Photograph

One response to “Thanksgiving Maskers: A Forgotten Thanksgiving Tradition

  1. Zedwebb

    This is one of the lost historical notes of Thanksgiving. I do not think I have heard of this before. Traditions sure have changed over time.

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