Regional Thanksgiving Traditions You've Never Heard Of

Thanksgiving is an American holiday, right up there with the 4th of July. As we've all known since kindergarten, it's the day when we commemorate the fact that a group of 17th century British settlers managed not to starve to death over their first winter in the New World due to the intervention of some helpful indigenous people (via History). While other countries have their own Thanksgiving celebrations, the one in November with the turkeythe pilgrims, and the pumpkin pie is all ours.

The United States, however, is a very large and diverse country, so it should come as no surprise to realize that we don't all celebrate the same way. There are certain regional food traditions that may seem strange in one area but perfectly normal in another, such as Baltimore embracing its German roots by serving up sauerkraut along with the turkey or southwestern states dishing out the oddity known as frog-eye salad. It's not just foods that differ from one region to the next, though. In certain parts of the country, they've adopted some rather unique Thanksgiving traditions. Some of them are entertaining and some are heartwarming, while others make us truly thankful that we don't live next door.

In New England, high school athletes compete in a turkey tossing event

What can you do with a 20-pound turkey? Roast it, smoke it, dry it, or ... toss it? Yes, that's what they do in Boston. Well, not every proper Bostonian engages in such activities. In fact, it's only a rather elite group of high school athletes from all over the New England region who are selected to compete in Matty's Turkey Toss on the day before Thanksgiving. Matty, according to Boston's WBZ News Radio, is Matt Siegel, host of the Kiss 108 radio show "Matty in the Morning."  This annual tradition has lasted for over two decades so far, and every year, the proceeds are donated to the Greater Boston Food Bank.

The turkey tossing going on at Matty's event, however, is pretty tame compared to how they used to do things in Bloomington, Indiana back in the day — 2005 and 2006. During that all-too-brief season, Thanksgiving turkey tossers set their frozen birds on fire. This dramatic (and dangerous) turkey toss flamed out, according to Indianapolis' WTHR, when the event organizers grew up and realized that they were literally playing with fire.

New England is also home to this sweet corn kernel remembrance

According to Taste of Home, New England is also ground zero for a Thanksgiving tradition centered around dried corn. They explain that the legend known as the "Five Kernels of Corn" is told to remind us of the hardships faced by the pilgrims. It also serves as one of those exercises in gratitude without which no elementary school lesson on Thanksgiving would be complete.

The former homeschool mom, who created the Teach Beside Me blog, explains the tradition, saying that Massachusetts colony governor William Bradford compared the situation faced by the starving colonists to the ancient Roman soldiers who were said to have survived on five grains of corn per day. While no one is suggesting we do likewise, those who place five dried kernels on each plate at Thanksgiving dinner are doing so in homage to the ones forced to eat such meager rations out of necessity.

If you want to use the kernels as an exercise in gratitude, you can use the first kernel to say thank you for the autumn beauty. The second kernel is to remind us for the love we have for each other. Kernel three reminds us of the love of our chosen deity or higher power, while kernel four reminds us to be grateful for our friends. For the fifth and last kernel, we should remember to give thanks for our freedom.

This Cleveland TV station sponsors Thanksgiving turkey bowling

The sport of turkey bowling may have gotten its start back in the '80s, invented by a California grocery store worker named Derrick Johnson. Johnson noticed his coworkers transporting frozen fowl by sliding them along the floor, and he thought, "Hey, why not add soda bottle bowling pins?" The store eventually fired him for playing around on the job, while the Los Angeles Times says he was even sued by Butterball's parent company for damaging their brand image. Still, for all Johnson's trials and tribulations, there is no doubt he was really onto something, and his favorite pastime lives on today in minor league hockey arenas such as the one belonging to the Wheeling Nailers.

It's in Cleveland, Ohio, though (a city just a few hours away from Wheeling), where the sport of turkey bowling may be having its finest hour. Cleveland's Fox 8 News sponsors an annual turkey bowling competition that takes place on Thanksgiving morning and features cans of cranberry sauce in place of pins. It's so popular that you have to send them a video of yourself — preferably dressed in a crazy costume like you're competing on "Let's Make a Deal" — for a spot on the team. This year, they introduced a new event held on the day before Thanksgiving: A Celebrity Turkey Bowl starring 12 people who are famous in Cleveland, if not elsewhere (via Fox 8 News). 

In Wisconsin, they like to get out of the house and go hunting

The 9-day deer hunting season in Wisconsin typically begins shortly before Thanksgiving, as per the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The combination of having a day off work plus a ready-made excuse to escape from a house full of relatives to get out of doing any prep work for dinner means that yes, a Thanksgiving day hunt is pretty much a given in much of the Badger State.

Matador Network calls this annual holiday deer hunt one of those "only in Wisconsin" things. As to how long the hunt lasts, that may depend less on the deer themselves than just how jam-packed the house is and how many celery stalks and onions "aren't going to chop themselves." One thing's for certain, though, all of the hunters will be back home in time for the day's first football game, whether or not the Packers are playing.

At this Missouri high school, they (maybe) toss pies at teachers

The most mysterious, because it's the least substantiated, account of an annual Thanksgiving tradition is one that ticks a lot of wish fulfillment boxes for everyone who's ever attended high school. It is alleged that at one time the students and faculty of North Technical High School in Florissant, Missouri were said to engage in some Thanksgiving pie-throwing. Culture Trip seems to indicate that the pies were tossed solely by the students, but Parent Influence refers to students and faculty "going head-to-head," thus indicating that there might have been a few pies traveling back in the students' direction.

When (or even whether) this pie toss ever took place is something we unfortunately cannot corroborate, as it doesn't seem to have merited much media attention. Whether the tradition died out, was canceled due to COVID-19, or was misattributed and actually took place somewhere else, the school's website gives no indication that it will be taking place in 2021. In fact, the school's calendar indicates that classes held before the Thanksgiving break are virtual ones so the only pies tossed will likely be in the form of emojis.