Festivals of Thanksgiving, observed sporadically on a local level in Florida, became a national tradition in 1863. During some of America’s bleakest days, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday at the height of the Civil War. At the time, Florida had only been a state for less than 20 years.
Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation, written by his Secretary of State William H. Seward, reads more like a prayer than an official government address. “The blessings in the United States should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people,” wrote Seward.
A CALL FOR UNITY
The speech was a call for unity during a time when the nation was sharply divided. “Thanks should be given that despite the severity of our War, peace had been preserved with all other nations. And despite its magnitude, the War had not stopped our nation's flourishing industry,” Lincoln proclaimed.
After the Great Depression, as Florida’s economy began to improve, Governor Frederick Preston Cone noted, “The people of Florida are eating high on the hog.” Under pressure from the federal government, Cone, often called “Old Suwannee,” asked Floridians to hold to their tradition and celebrate the 1939 Thanksgiving on November 30.
At the time, the federal government celebrated the holiday on the fourth Thursday to allow more shopping days before Christmas. Later, in December 1941, Congress passed a resolution fixing Thanksgiving’s date to the fourth Thursday of November.
Before Florida became part of the United States, its colonies flew the flags of Great Britain, Spain, and France. As a result, culinary traditions in the state reflect the heritage of all the people who ever called Florida home.
A traditional Thanksgiving meal includes roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, vegetables, dinner rolls, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. But Floridians often add other delicacies such as seafood, mojo and other spices, chorizo, and fresh local vegetables and fruits such as avocado and mango.
In addition to pumpkin and apple pies, many Floridians also serve key lime pie with holiday dinners. The sweet and tart pie – created in Key West in the late 19th century – was named the official state pie by the Florida Legislature in 2006.
FEAST AND FOOTBALL
After World War II, Florida became enthralled with the southern tradition of turkey and football. Long-matched football games between high school rivals included Hillsborough vs. Plant High and Miami High vs. Miami Edison – where the 1950 Thanksgiving Day game drew a crowd of more than 36,000.
Floridians were captivated by football. At a collegiate level, the Florida vs. Florida State football rivalry became a Thanksgiving tradition between the two oldest public universities in the state. The annual matchup between the Gators and Seminoles remains the most intense between in-state rivals.
Among the red hills, cane fields, and big cities, attendance at high school games in the 1950s frequently surpassed collegiate games. From Pensacola to the Keys, Floridians flocked to games featuring the Lakeland Dreadnaughts, the Lake Wales Highlanders, the Apopka Blue Darters, the Key West Conchs, the Pompano Beach Beanpickers, and the Seabreeze Fighting Sandcrabs.
THE COST OF A HOLIDAY MEAL
Between 1910 and 1940, Turkey was much more costly than ham or steak. Prices ranged between 23 and 32 cents per pound. A working-class Florida family sacrificed greatly for a turkey. In 1925, during the great depression, the cost spiked to 60 cents per pound, equivalent to over $18 per pound in today's market.
In 1915, a quart of cranberries sold for 20 cents, and a butter pound cake was a dollar – the equivalent of $29.51 today. If families chose to dine out in 1935, Morrison's Cafeteria offered a turkey dinner with oyster and pecan dressing, including fresh cranberry sauce, for 23 cents – the equivalent of $5 today.
In 2022, despite rising food costs, the Farm Bureau reports the average price of $64.05 for dinner for ten is still a bargain at less than $6.50 per person. Last year, the average Thanksgiving meal for ten cost $53.31.
Hunting your own turkey has always been a sustainable option in Florida. It’s a great way to serve an organic bird while also impressing dinner guests with the flavor of wild turkey. Eastern and Osceola subspecies are abundant throughout the state. But hunting the wild fowl requires knowledge and skill. Visit gooutdoorsflorida.com for more details.