Forgotten American Traditions

Published on January 24, 2019, 11:21 am
FavoriteLoadingAdd to favorites 9 mins

Across America, we celebrate and mark quite a few occasions on an annual basis.

There is the excitement and thrill of attending or hosting a Super Bowl towards the beginning of the year, we also celebrate independence Day on the 4th of July with fireworks and a barbeque and a few more fun-filled moments, and as we move on towards the end of the year, there is trick-or-treating that we enjoy during Halloween, a turkey Thanksgiving Dinner on Thanksgiving Day and, who cannot forget, the joys that the festive Christmas seasons brings.

Despite not being short of celebrations and holidays in America, there are a few traditions that we tend to not to honor anymore. Together, with stair lift manufacturer Acorn Stairlifts, we look at three forgotten occasions, and speculate whether any others may soon join the list of forgotten traditions.

Ragamuffin Day

One of the two Thanksgiving traditions that we cover in this article, many people think Ragamuffin day is quite similar to Halloween. Actually, around before Americans began to celebrate All Hallows’ Eve, Ragamuffin Day involved children getting dressed up in costumes and masks. Once in their attire, they would knock on the doors of their neighbors and pose them the question “Anything for Thanksgiving?”

The occasion occurred to recreate the interactions that the poor used to make with those more fortunate than them, who were celebrating Thanksgiving, beggars would go door to door during the holidays asking for either food or coin.

Despite that Ragamuffin Day does not get as honored anymore as we have disclosed above, you can still find it being replicated in part during Thanksgiving. This is because Thanksgiving Day parades involve people dressed in costumes, while the ragamuffins themselves have been transformed into the huge character balloons we see going through our streets during this part of the celebration.

Barrel Burning

The second Thanksgiving tradition along with Ragamuffin, was a ritual of Barrel Burning. Because a few decades ago, families were in possession of wooden trash barrels, the idea of the occasion was that communities would stack as many barrels on top of one another and then set them all on fire. A designated time and setting was provided for the Barrel Burning to commence — often at the end of Thanksgiving Day as a large social gathering of entire communities, once loved ones had eaten their Thanksgiving dinner and enjoyed some time relaxing with their families.

Once televisions hit the mainstream across the US, barrel burning become less and less popular throughout the years, until it no longer got marked, as people chose to gather around their TV sets in an approach that sounded quite safer.

May Basket Day

There are still small parts of the country that still honor this tradition, but May Basket Day does not get recognized nationwide as it once did. 

The occasion was marked on the 1st May however, Americans made preparations towards the end of April, gathering candles, flowers and other treats and placed them in baskets for celebration. Once filled, individuals hung these baskets from the doors of friends, loved ones and neighbors.

May Basket Day seemed popular during the second half of 1800s and into the early decades 1900s, judging on newspaper reports from the likes of the Sterling, Illinois, the St. Joseph, Michigan, Gazette, Herald and the Taunton, Massachusetts, Gazette. What is more, the Indiana, Pennsylvania, Gazette picked up on how two youngsters became risk-takers when they hung their May baskets on the front door of the White House in 1925. The newspaper acknowledged that first lady Grace Coolidge was able to find her admirers, where she presented them with flowers that she had picked.

It was during the second half of the 20th century when May Basket Day became a lot less popular. A reporter for the Associated Press acknowledged in Providence, Rhode Island, that they had only observed a “few May baskets hanging from door knobs” on May 1st 1963. In the same year, a syndicated columnist simply asked the question: “Remember May Basket Day?”

Traditions to keep an eye on – Columbus Day being replaced with Indigenous Peoples Day

Despite Columbus Day no longer marked or celebrated yet, we shouldn’t be too surprised if it disappeared from our calendars in the years to come.

The occasion was named after the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus and was used as a means of placing Catholic Italians such as Columbus into American history as well as to commemorate the landing of explorer himself in the Americas in 1492, this holiday has been unofficially marked in cities and states across the country since the 18th century. However, it was not until 1937 that the occasion became a federal holiday — originally observed on October 12th on an annual basis but changing to be honored on the second Monday of October from 1971 onwards.

Columbus Day has stopped being celebrated across the United States in recent years, in favor of Indigenous Peoples Day, which is a counter-holiday that honors the history and contributions that Native Americans have had on shaping the nation.

During the 1900s, the first American city to instate the occasion in lieu of Columbus Day was Berkeley, in California, with at least 57 more cities following suit by 2018. Alaska, Cincinnati, Florida, Hawaii, Oregon, Minnesota, San Francisco, South Dakota and Vermont are among the states which no longer recognize Columbus Day too. What is more, Brunswick in Maine and the Village of Lewiston in New York are two cities which now celebrate both Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples Day.

Is there a reason for the increasing shift of attitudes? Columbus was not the first person to discover the New World — a term that is generally used in reference to the modern-day Americas — for one thing, as indigenous people had lived there for centuries before the explorer arrived in 1492. While Encyclopedia Britannica writes that Columbus paved the way for the “European exploration, exploitation, and colonization of the Americas”, it must also be acknowledged that the explorer was not even the first European to see the New World. Leif Eriksson and the Vikings had been there five centuries earlier.

It was also found on top of this, that journeys made by Columbus include the spread of deadly diseases and the enslavement of Native Americans. David M. Perry, an historian, commented “Columbus didn’t know that his voyage would spread diseases across the continents, of course, but disease was not the only problem… He also took slaves for display back home and to work in his conquered lands.”

So we have looked at three traditions that are rarely or no longer being celebrated across the United States and an occasion that could be soon omitted from our calendars. Perhaps some have offered you a trip down memory lane and inspired you to begin marking them once more…


Jonas Bronck is the pseudonym under which we publish and manage the content and operations of The Bronx Daily.™ | - the largest daily news publication in the borough of "the" Bronx with over 1.5 million annual readers. Publishing under the alias Jonas Bronck is our humble way of paying tribute to the person, whose name lives on in the name of our beloved borough.