Held on the last Thursday of every November, the Thanksgiving holiday is a classic American tradition encompassing all things related to the fall season. Most people are already familiar with the holiday’s basic traditions, whether prepping the turkey and side dishes for Thanksgiving dinner, watching football on the couch or catching the yearly broadcast of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. For some, the most important tradition is sharing what you’re most thankful for with family and friends.
Aside from the more family-oriented traditions that most people associate with Thanksgiving, there are also a variety of activities people participate in to commemorate the holiday. Some traditions are iconic and long-lasting, some are quite strange and others are even flat-out dangerous. While not all of these are considered “obscure,” some traditions have rather interesting origins that not everyone is familiar with.
One of the more widely participated activities held around Thanksgiving is the yearly Turkey Trot. While the activity is not always exclusive to the holiday, it has become one of the longest-lasting traditions in Thanksgiving activity, with earliest records dating back to as early as 1896.
The Turkey Trot has a footrace ranging from 5 kilometers to 21 kilometers. There are less formal “fun runs” which can go as low as 1.6 kilometers. Participants in the Turkey Trot are often encouraged to wear costumes as they compete in the footrace, with the usual costume choices being the iconic Thanksgiving bird.
Turkey Trots are usually ubiquitous and take place nationwide, but some of the more stacked races in the past have taken place in Atlanta, Georgia, known as the Atlanta Marathon. Although the race has since been replaced with the Peachtree Road Race after the COVID-19 lockdown, the Turkey Trot remains an iconic activity around the Thanksgiving season.
In a similar vein to the Turkey Trot, bowling is a favorite pastime for many Americans to bond with friends and family. Still, some people might not be familiar with an unlikely combination. That, of course, is bowling and frozen turkey. The unorthodox sport of “turkey bowling” involves your typical rules of traditional bowling but with a Thanksgiving twist; an oiled-up frozen turkey is used as a bowling ball, and beverage bottles or cans are used as bowling pins.
“Turkey bowling” started in Newport Beach, California, in 1988. Derrick Johnson, who worked as a grocery clerk then, claims to have accidentally invented the sport by toppling over a soda bottle with a frozen turkey.
In recent years, turkey bowling has turned from a strange novelty and has been used in various fundraising and awareness campaigns, particularly in the midwest state of Wisconsin. Some noteworthy examples include Milwaukee resident Anthony Paulus, who held turkey bowling in order to raise money to help combat Angelman disease, as well as the University of Wisconsin in La-Crosse holding a frozen turkey bowling event in order to educate people on tobacco addiction.
If getting a strike with a frozen turkey isn’t your thing, you could always wrap it in a onesie, douse it in lighter fluid, and throw it with a chain across a wide-open field, as one would typically do. The tradition of the Flaming Turkey Toss, originating in Bloomington, Indiana, had only ever been around for a couple of years in the mid-2000s when a group of friends wanted something fun to do over the Thanksgiving holiday.
The premise of the game is quite simple, although extremely dangerous if not careful. It functions similarly to Olympic hammer throwing, but instead of throwing a throwing hammer consisting of a ball and handle, it’s a frozen turkey set on fire. Although it’s been over a decade since the state of Indiana has seen flaming turkeys being flung in the air, the unforgettable experience will not be forgotten by those who participated.
Most people associate the Thanksgiving holiday with the aroma of cooked turkey and side dishes while bonding over a family dinner. However, there are still plenty of creative activities that people have brought to reality, whether running in a turkey suit or bowling turkeys for a cause.