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Thanksgiving Comes Once A Year: Here's Why Detroit Is Such A Special Part Of It

Thanksgiving Comes Once A Year: Here's Why Detroit Is Such A Special Part Of It

Detroit has made its mark in many different areas.

The automobile put the world on wheels; Motown gave a backbone to pop music; 8 Mile has become one of the best-known roads in the country (for better or for worse).

The city's impact on the world and pop culture is well documented, but what about Detroit's impact on the holidays? Particularly, Thanksgiving Day in 2015 might look a lot different if not for the Motor City.

America's Thanksgiving Parade

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade gets a lot of the attention while the turkey is being cooked, but America's Thanksgiving Parade has been there every step of the way for nearly a century.

Both parades got their start in 1924, four years after the 6abc Dunkin' Donuts Thanksgiving Day Parade in Philadelphia. Detroit's version was born out of the J.L. Hudson Company, known for its retail department store, Hudson's. Hudson's display director Charles Wendel came up with the idea after seeing a Christmas parade in Toronto, Canada.

The first parades featured paper maché heads thanks to Wendel, who "had seen them during a European trip and collaborated with some Italian puppeteers to construct them. They are fondly called the 'Big Heads' and have become a staple of the parade in Detroit."

Thousands of parents bring their children to see the unique floats, larger-than-life balloons, and talented high school musicians every year.

The main Hudson's store was located in downtown Detroit along Woodward Avenue, the street on which the parade takes place. At just north of 2.1 million square feet, Hudson's was the second-largest department store in the country, just 26,000 square feet behind Macy's in New York City.

Unfortunately, the fate of that Hudson's store mirrored the city's decline in the 1960s and 1970s. points out that "[a]s the city’s decline in population, reputation and wealth continued, Hudson's downtown store closed Jan. 17, 1983, after more than 90 years of business." Fifteen years later, the building was demolished.

Fortunately, the site is now being redeveloped by Rock Ventures and Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert, a Detroit native who has helped revitalize that particular area of downtown.

NFL Football

Football has become synonymous with Thanksgiving in many households. While there were several iterations before them, the Detroit Lions have been there since 1934.

As the team's website says, "The game was the brainchild of G.A. Richards, the first owner of the Detroit Lions. Richards had purchased the team in 1934 and moved the club from Portsmouth, Ohio to the Motor City. The Lions were the new kids in town and had taken a backseat to the [city's baseball team] Tigers."

The gimmick of a Thanksgiving game helped with attendance. "The opponent that day in 1934 was the undefeated, defending World Champion Chicago Bears," the Lion's website says. "The game would determine the champion of the Western Division. Richards had convinced the NBC Radio Network to carry the game coast-to-coast (94 stations) and, additionally, an estimated 26,000 fans jammed into the University of Detroit Stadium."

The Lions have played in 75 Thanksgiving day games, although they have lost more than they've won. The Dallas Cowboys hopped on the tradition in 1966, giving football fans an option later in the day. Since 2006, a third game has been added to the turkey day docket in a prime-time slot.


These are just a couple of big ways Detroit has put a truly unique touch on this American holiday. At Benzinga, we're even more thankful this year.

After spending our first five years in multiple, cramped office locations, we moved downtown last month. One Campus Martius has Benzinga located right in the heart of the city, just a few steps away from our favorite bars, restaurants and even bookstores.

Next door, an empty lot sits where the Hudson's department store used to stand. While our passion has never waned, our energy has been rejuvenated.

And wouldn't you know it? Our windows face Woodward Avenue, allowing us to look out at some of the same Thanksgiving balloons we used to look up at as children.

Posted-In: America's Thanksgiving Day Parade Dan Gilbert Detorit Detroit LionsTopics Events Top Stories General Best of Benzinga


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