Giving Thanks to History

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Many characterize Thanksgiving by the Macy’s Day Parade, overeating without judgement and elastic waistbands. If we’re lucky, maybe the weather will even drop below 70 degrees so we can put on a sweater. Orlando may not have any longstanding Turkey Day traditions, but that’s not to say we haven’t been creative in celebrating the holiday.

In honor of our favorite day of overindulgence, let’s give thanks to the various, sometimes-outlandish ways Orlando has celebrated over the years.

1918 – Citizens of Orlando awoke on Nov. 11, 1918, to whistles from the Orlando Water and Light Company signaling that a WWI armistice had been signed. Orlando celebrated with a large “Victory Parade” on Thanksgiving Day, as people lined the streets from Jackson all the way to the Fairgrounds to give thanks that fighting had come to an end.

If you were trying to escape your in-laws during the holidays of 1923, Orlando had a variety of events on the calendar to get you out of the house. One could go see the western classic The Virginian at the Beacham on Thanksgiving or attend this circus parade the next day. (Photo courtesy of Orange County Regional History Center)

1928 – Before trotting in the name of turkeys became popular, Orlando staged a turkey race of its own. So, instead of racing your in-laws to make it home in time for (some reason) a 3 p.m. dinner, people raced (or chased) a large turkey around the roller-skating rink at the Coliseum to see who could catch it first. The lucky winner’s prize? Being able to take home the turkey and the glory of a good story about how their holiday dinner made its way to the table.

(Note: No articles could be found about who won the race, and 1928 seems to be the only year this event happened, leading us to believe it was way too successful to ever be put on again.)

1939 – With a country still feeling the effects of the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving up a week with the idea that an extended holiday shopping season would encourage retail activity.

But, just like a heated Thanksgiving dinner debate, some states didn’t agree to the adjustment. Florida was among those that didn’t want to change their “traditional” day, so Orlando celebrated Thanksgiving a week later than the rest of the country in both 1939 and 1940.

Temperatures on Dec. 20, 1968, may have been in the upper 70s, but Mayor Carl Langford was still prepared for what he selected would be the coldest day between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Regardless of his defeated record of predictions, Mayor Langford emphasized the fact that, “It’s still the coldest day if you haven’t got shoes.” (Photo courtesy of Orange County Regional History Center)

1968-1972 – To get into the spirit of giving each year, the Orlando Sentinel would task an individual with predicting the coldest day of the year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Cold or not, the L.A. Johnson Fuel and Oil Company would donate one cent from each gallon sold on the predicted day to the Orlando Sentinel’s Shoes for the Shoeless fund.

From 1968 to 1972, Mayor Carl Langford played the role of weather prophet, using a variety of techniques, from brushing up on past weather trends to consulting mediums from Cassadega. Mayor Langford had a perfect prediction record of 0-5. Despite his lack of meteorological skill, Langford’s antics helped raise over $7,000 for new shoes for children.

Melissa Procko is the Research Librarian at the Orange County Regional History Center.

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