What do you get when you put together ornate cornucopias, well-dressed family photos and jello everything?
It’s the Fabulous Fifties!
The 1950’s were revolutionary. Millions of families flocked to the suburbs and were gushing over their new home appliances, like the pop-up toaster, the non-stick pan, and colorful kitchen aid products. Little Johnnie and Susie were playing with the brand new Mr. Potato Head, and before the decade would end the Barbie doll would make its debut on the market.
The United States was changing significantly - World War II was over and many American families were reaping the benefits of the postwar economy. The Civil Rights movement was materializing, beginning with the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case, desegregating public schools in 1954. The Korean war was just beginning, and President Eisenhower was taking office.
Naturally, due to all the momentous things happening, the holiday season in the 50’s was filled with celebration and anticipation of the marvelous things the decade would bring. This background information can help us wrap our heads around some of the quirky, exciting, and downright bizarre Thanksgiving traditions that were popular in the 1950’s.
Dress to Impress
At a 1950’s Thanksgiving feast, you’d better wear your Sunday best! Many families dressed to the nines for the big day, including those who were designated to the “kiddie table.”
Reliving the Past
During the month of November, it was common for schools and student organizations to present reenactments of the first Thanksgiving to audiences of doting parents and proud teachers. The students would dress up as pilgrims and Native Americans, acting out important events in the Thanksgiving story. Many schools today are still putting on these Thanksgiving programs around this time of year!
The 1950’s were a time of change and progress - however, I don’t think that gives people a pass to do something as strange and flat out heinous as making a “shrimp aspic mold” for Thanksgiving supper. Yes, the people of the 1950’s were nuts about jello. Jello was not new by any means. The first powdered gelatin was patented in 1845, more than 100 years before this fabulous decade. Yet, something in the air around Thanksgiving time in the 50’s compelled enough people to make interesting jello concoctions in numbers. Chicken mousse, cranberry souffle salad, and anyone? No thanks, I’ll pass.
Mind Your Manners
Kids at the Thanksgiving table during the 1950’s were expected to be on their best behavior. No elbows on the table, no smacking your teeth, and absolutely no back talk. Watch this video from the era that instructs children on proper behavior at the dinner table.
The Big Parade
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has been a family favorite to watch since its inception in 1924. The parade was first broadcast via radio, before the television was ushered into every American family home. In the 50’s, families would sit around their televisions and watch the famous parade on the morning of Thanksgiving before all the cooking and preparing began. In the 50’s, the parade included some floats and balloons that were a spectacle of the times.
The 1950’s introduced the frozen, already prepared turkey to American grocery store freezers. Before the mass production of these frigid birds, customers would have to go to their local butcher and select a turkey for purchase. The process of selecting the perfect bird, and ensuring that you got your turkey before the butcher sold out, made Thanksgiving a harrowing process for many. With frozen turkeys, this problems was solved, and turkey day became expressly easier. Here is a video from the 50’s that instructs homemakers how to handle and cook the newest craze:
A proper 1950’s kitchen isn’t complete without some experimentation. Thanksgiving back then wasn’t just for turkey - many families incorporated seafood into their feasts. Shrimp cocktail loaf and clam dip were typical dishes of the decade.
Today it’s easy to find a cornucopia near Thanksgiving at your local craft store. In the 1950’s, it was even easier. In fact, you could catch a cornucopia on a table or maybe even a skirt around the holidays. Ceramic cornucopias to hang on your wall were also popular during the decade.
The 1950’s were fabulous and innovative. It was a time of change and convenience, which is reflected in the unique Thanksgiving traditions of the time. While we’re all glad that some things were lost in time (shrimp jello, anyone?), some 50’s traditions are good enough to keep alive today. Will you be participating in any of these traditions this holiday season?