The leaves are changing, the weather has cooled, and Americans everywhere are celebrating the fall season. From corn mazes to autumnal apple bobbing, there’s no doubt this time of year is rich with tradition. But how much do we really know about some of our most time-honored fall celebrations?
This beer-soaked fall festival usually starts the third weekend of September and ends the first Sunday in October. But what many may not know is that originally the festival had very little to do with beer. The original Oktoberfest was born on October 12, 1810 to celebrate the Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig’s marriage to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. However, the celebration was such a hit, the citizens celebrated the event the next year as well. And the year after that. Which lead to the beer tents, booths, and gardens Oktoberfest-goers enjoy today.1
Presidential Turkey Pardon
Another odd and uniquely American fall tradition is the annual presidential turkey pardon. The first of many fowl pardons can be traced to President Abraham Lincoln’s “pardon” of a meant-for Christmas-dinner turkey in 1865.2
However, it wasn’t until the 1870s that sending a Thanksgiving turkey to the White House became an annual tradition thanks to Horace Vose, known at the time as the Poultry King of Rhode Island.2
By 1914, the opportunity to give a turkey to the President was open to all, but the competition was fierce, giving rise to all sorts of American creativity. For example, hoping to make their gift more attractive, an American Legion post furnished bunting for the crate of a hopeful turkey in 1921. Around that same time, a Harding Girls Club in Chicago dressed their hopeful bird as a flying ace, complete with goggles.2
Interestingly, the gifted turkey was not always pardoned. In fact, in 1948 Truman accepted two turkeys and remarked that they would “come in handy” for Christmas dinner. However, since 1981, the Turkey Ceremony has always ended in a pardon with the lucky bird sent to a farm or zoo to live out the remainder of its days.
Bobbing for Apples
Although bobbing for apples may feel like a uniquely American tradition, we actually have the British to thank for this one. Originally thought of as a courting ritual during parties or gatherings, apples were set afloat in a tub or basin and each assigned the name of an eligible bachelor.3
At this point, the eligible women at the party would attempt to bite the floating apple assigned to the person she hoped to marry. Nabbing the apple on the first try meant a “storybook” romance. Securing the apple on the second attempt meant they would have a relationship, but it wouldn’t last. And three tries? That was a sign the couple wasn’t meant to be.
If you’re like many Americans, thoughts of fall can conjure up all sorts of autumnal imagery. Pumpkins, the leaves of the season, or maybe even a corn maze or two. Surprisingly though, these cornily confusing crops are a relatively recent phenomenon. Even though corn mazes have been recorded as early as 1982, the first official maize-maze was created in 1993 in Annville, Pennsylvania. Even though America gets credit for the first corn maze, the United Kingdom is also wild for these agricultural labyrinths they sometimes call “maize-mazes.” Much like in America, the British use these festive fall attractions to celebrate the season while bolstering their businesses with other familiar offerings such as hayrides, petting zoos, or farm-fresh picnics.4
1. Justhistoryposts.com, October 12, 2020
2. Whitehousehistory.org, 2021
3. RD.com, October 15, 2020
4. Vacationidea.com, May 8, 2021