“Oddest thing: Thanksgiving in turn-of-the-20th century America used to look a heckuva lot like Halloween. People — young and old — got all dressed up and staged costumed crawls through the streets. In Los Angeles, Chicago and other places around the country, newspapers ran stories of folks wearing elaborate masks and cloth veils. Thanksgiving mask balls were held in Cape Girardeau, Mo., Montesano, Wash., and points in between.” L. Weeks, NPR
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
Excerpt: When Thanksgiving Was Weird By Linton Weeks, NPR
“In New York City — where the tradition was especially strong — a local newspaper reported in 1911 that fantastically garbed youngsters and their elders were on every corner of the city. Thousands of folks ran rampant, one syndicated column noted. Horns and rattles are worked overtime. The throwing of confetti and even flour on pedestrians is an allowable pastime. It must have been like a strange American dream. Of course there was the familiar Thanksgiving fare for those who could afford it — turkey, pork, apples, figs and mince pies. But there was also a widespread weirdness that has faded away over the years.
In fact, so many people participated in masking and making merry back then that, according to a widely distributed item that appeared in the Los Angeles Times of Nov. 21, 1897, Thanksgiving was “the busiest time of the year for the manufacturers of and dealers in masks and false faces. The fantastical costume parades and the old custom of making and dressing up for amusement on Thanksgiving day keep up from year to year in many parts of the country, so that the quantity of false faces sold at this season is enormous… In New York: Newspapers advertised ‘Thanksgiving masks’ and ‘lithographed character masks’ for the tots…These featureless disguises were often sold in candy stores alongside holiday related treats like spiced jelly gums, opera drops, crystallized ginger and tinted hard candies.
Children would dress themselves in rags and oversized, overdone parodies of beggars (a la Charlie Chaplin’s character ‘The Tramp’) The ragamuffins would then ask neighbors and adults on the street, ‘Anything for Thanksgiving?’…Ragamuffin parades continued to be popular into the 1950s, but they were eventually overpowered by another burgeoning tradition catapulted into prominence by the 1947 movie Miracle on 34th Street.
The new symbol of Thanksgiving also showcased people in fantastic masks and costumes and, in addition, hoisted giant character-based balloons. It was called Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Predictions: Using a Pre-reading Organizer
Directions: Ask students to examine the title of the post and of the actual article they are about to read. Then, have them examine the photos. Ask students to write a paragraph describing what they think this article will discuss. Students can use a Pre-reading organizer for assistance.
II. While Reading Tasks
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- Fantastically garbed youngsters were on every corner.
- One columnist noted that many folks ran rampant.
- The throwing of confetti and even flour on pedestrians was allowed.
- Many people participated in masking.
- Masks were a widely distributed item.
- There were many popular get-ups at the time.
- Some masks greatly exaggerated facial peculiarities.
- More refined revelers donned soft, ghostly, painted veils.
- Many people kept the tradition alive.
- Children would dress themselves in rags and parodies of beggars.
Directions: Students choose the correct word to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented.
Some marauders/ masqueraders rode/ride horses; others strayed/straddled bicycles. Everyone was generous/genuine with pennies and nickels, and the candy stores did a land-office business. So many young/youngsters in New York City dressed as poor/pop people, Thanksgiving Day took on a nickname: Ragamuffin Day. Parodies/Parades of ragamuffins — sometimes called ‘fantastics’ because of the costumes — can be dated/dates at least to 1891. The ragamuffins would then/than ask neighbors and adults on the street, ‘Anything for Thanksgiving?’
Directions: Have students choose a picture from the article and write a descriptive paragraph using adjectives.
For a review of Adjectives visit ESL Voices Grammar
III. Post Reading Tasks
Directions: Have students use the WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.
Who or What is the article about?
Where does the action/event take place?
When does the action/event take place?
Why did the action/event occur?
How did the action/event occur?
Directions: Place students in groups and have them answer the following questions. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following discussion topics.
- The following two statements were taken from the article. Rephrase each statement in your own words, then discuss the meaning with the members of your group.
“By 1930, the library blog reports, some New Yorkers were ready to move on. School Superintendent William J. O’Shea instructed administrators that modernity is incompatible with the custom of children to masquerade and annoy adults on Thanksgiving day” by asking for gifts and money.”
“Others kept the tradition alive. The Madison Square Club for Boys and Young Men, for instance, put on Ragamuffin Parades in an attempt to bring order to the occasion. The 1940 parade, according to the library blog, featured more than 400 children and touted the group’s motto: American boys do not beg.”
1-Minute Free Writing Exercise
Directions: Allow students 1 minute to write down one new idea they’ve learned from the reading. Ask them to write down one thing they did not understand in the reading. Review the responses as a class.