Gratitude with attitude
Many feathers have been ruffled in the United States this year, but those don’t include the plucked plumage of the delicious feasts Houstonians will be diving into at our Thanksgiving tables.
Because as we are poised to become the third largest city in the nation, overtaking even the Chicago that finally took home a World Series, we have become a place where citizens of every race, creed, and background are welcomed with open arms. Yes, and with football on our big-screen TVs!
Birthplace of Thanksgiving – Texas?
The American tradition of Thanksgiving is generally thought to have originated in 1623 Plymouth, MA, of course, as a day of prayer and feasting to express gratitude for the end of a drought that had bedeviled the new colony.
But in recent years, Texans point to an earlier thanksgiving celebrated by Spanish explorer Juan de Oñate and his expedition on April 30, 1598, after their arduous journey from Santa Barbara in southern Chihuahua, Mexico to the Rio Grande near what would become El Paso.
Oñate and his expedition of 500 people endured terrible hardships as they traversed the perilous Chihuahuan Desert, including a week of rain followed by drought and the depletion of their supplies of food and water. When they reached the Rio Grande, however, they found salvation.
One member of the expedition wrote, “We built a great bonfire and roasted the meat and fish, and then all sat down to a repast the like of which we had never enjoyed before…”
Houston’s own Thanksgiving traditions
Houston’s own oldest holiday tradition is the Tree of Lights, which made its debut in 1919. Designated as the official event to kick-off the City’s holiday season, it took place over the years at Miller Theatre in Hermann Park, the old City Hall on Market Square, Sam Houston Park, and various locations along Main Street. In 1960, the permanent site became our present City Hall.
Our first Thanksgiving parade began in 1949, when Santa arrived at Union Station before jumping into his sleigh (on a snowless street, no doubt) and hastening to Foley’s department store on Main Street, where he greeted the crowds gathered there.
Foley’s, which as Foley Bros. had become Houston’s largest department store back in 1922, then hyped Santa’s subsequent holiday arrivals with a parade that grew grander each year with spectacular floats, marching bands, high-flying balloons, and, of course, Mr. Claus himself. This year’s parade, sponsored by HEB and produced by the Mayor’s Office of Special Events, will be the city’s 67th and, no doubt, will once again delight thousands of Houstonians lining our downtown streets.
The holiday parties famed theater owner Will Horwitz threw for underprivileged children were another legendary Houston Thanksgiving tradition back in the 20s and 30s. Thousands gathered at the City Auditorium, where Horwitz gave each child toys, candy, and fruit. For many of the kids, these were the only presents they received each year. The Horwitz parties ceased after his death in 1941, but organizations like Houston Children’s Charity today continue to improve the lives of less-fortunate youngsters.
Houston – we have the right stuffing.
This gingerbread man might have been one of the treats handed out at the Thanksgiving holiday parties for children given every year by entertainment impresario, theater and radio station owner, florist, and philanthropist Will Horowitz. A true man of the people, Horwitz priced his movie theater tickets at 5 and 15 cents, angering movie producers who wanted him to raise admission to their films. During the dispute, he kept live hogs in his theater lobbies, calling them the “movie hog trust.”
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