The Origins of 25 Fall Traditions

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Getty

If your fall bucket list includes carving jack-o’-lanterns, sipping apple cider, and toasting s’mores over a bonfire, you’re in good company. But when you stop to think about it, many of our autumnal traditions—like scooping out pumpkin guts, asking strangers for sugar, and wandering aimlessly through cornfields—are pretty bizarre. Here are the reasons behind some of our favorite fall pastimes.

1. OKTOBERFEST

This suds-filled celebration, which starts the third weekend of September and ends the first Sunday in October, was created to commemorate the wedding of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen on October 12, 1810. Citizens celebrated again the following year, and the year after that, and the year after that. The party grew as the years passed—and by 1896, the beer stands had given way to beer tents.

2. CORN MAZES

Wandering through a confusing crop configuration is a relatively recent tradition. The first corn maze was created in 1993 at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania. Its creator, Don Frantz, has also been responsible for producing Super Bowl halftime shows and Broadway musicals like The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast.

3. ELECTION DAY

When Americans first started voting, they had a 34-day period in which to get it done—but when Congress eventually designated a specific Election Day in 1845, they did so with farmers in mind. Many people had to travel up to a day to reach their voting locations, so Congress had to keep a two-day window open. Weekends were out because of church, and Wednesdays were no good because many farmers went to market that day. Tuesday basically won by default. We also have farmers to thank for the month in which we vote—November was post-harvest, but pre-snow.

4. HOMECOMING

Several colleges claim to have held the first homecoming, but whether it was the University of Missouri, Baylor, or the University of Illinois, the tradition dates from the early 1900s and was invented to encourage alumni to come back to visit (presumably infusing the community with cash from their newfound paychecks).

5. TRICK-OR-TREATING

Going door-to-door for food on specific holidays dates at least back to the Middle Ages. It became popular in the United States in the 1920s and ‘30s, but had to be put on hold during WWII due to the sugar rations. When the war was over, the practice returned with a vengeance. UNICEF latched on to the tradition in 1950, and “Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF” has since raised more than $175 million.

6. BEGGAR'S NIGHT

Believing that holding activities on Halloween night increases the chance of vandalism and mischief, some communities choose to hold their annual trick-or-treat night on nearby dates in October instead. One of the first cities to adapt "Beggar’s Night" was Des Moines, Iowa, which switched to an alternative date after a rash of petty crime in 1938.

7. APPLE BOBBING

Trying to grab a Red Delicious with your teeth wasn’t always an autumn tradition. It was once a British courting ritual, where each apple was assigned the name of an eligible bachelor, and each woman would try to grab the apple representing the man she was interested in. (Cringe.) Getting it on the first try meant a "happily ever after" ending. Snagging the apple on the the second attempt meant the couple would get together, but their love wouldn’t last. And three tries was a no-go. Though the game waned in popularity during the 1800s, a version of it was revived at the end of the century by Americans remembering their cultural roots.

8. PUMPKIN SPICE

As you might have suspected, Starbucks gets the credit for making people lose their minds over the blend of common household spices—after all, “pumpkin spice” is really just a combination of spices found in autumn fare like pumpkin pie and apple cider. Mixing flavors such as cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and mace is certainly nothing new. But in 2003, the Seattle-based coffee company did a heck of a job marketing their new Pumpkin Spice Latte, and ever since then, consumers have clamored to buy anything with the magic label.

9. THE WORLD SERIES

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In 1901 and 1902, baseball's American League and National League were bitter rivals, stealing each other’s players and even taking the beef to the off-season. Things had mostly settled down by 1903, and to bury the hatchet, the leagues decided to face off in a friendly competition. The Boston Americans beat the Pittsburg (that’s not a typo—there was no "h" at the time) Pirates, but by 1904, the rivalry had reared its ugly head again. John McGraw, the manager of the New York Giants, the National League champs, refused to let his team play against the American League Boston Americans, and the 1904 World Series was canceled.

10. HAUNTED HOUSES

The idea of an attraction designed specifically to creep people out has been around since 19th-century London, when Madame Tussaud exhibited eerily accurate wax replicas of famous French people getting their heads lopped off by the guillotine. But walkthroughs of macabre mansions filled with all manner of spooks and scares was first popularized in 1969: "A lot of the professional haunters will point to one thing, and that's Disneyland's Haunted Mansion. It's the start of the haunted attraction industry," says Lisa Morton, the author of Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween. Within a few years, copies had popped up all over the country.

11. MOVEMBER

As many great ideas do, Movember started in a pub. In 1999, a group of guys in Adelaide, South Australia, came up with the idea to raise money and awareness for charities by growing their moustaches out for a month. The idea quickly caught on, and by 2003, other organizations had adopted the practice. Since then, the Movember Foundation has raised more than $710 million for men’s health causes such as testicular cancer, prostate cancer, mental health, and suicide prevention.

12. BLACK FRIDAY

If getting up in the middle of the night to fight crowds and snag deals on electronics and cookware is your idea of a good time, thank the good people of Philadelphia. Philly police used the term "Black Friday" to refer to the day after Thanksgiving, when the city would be awash with rowdy fans attending the Army-Navy football game. Local retailers took advantage of the crowds by having sales and calling the day "Big Friday," but the police term for it stuck. By the 1980s, the discounts and super sales started creeping across the nation.

13. S’MORES

We can’t point to a single inventor of the s’more, but the concept of melting the gooey concoctions over a campfire dates to at least 1927, when a recipe for "Some mores" was published in a handbook called Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts. The delicious combination of chocolate, marshmallow, and graham cracker was nothing new—the Mallomar was invented in 1913—but there’s something to be said for the smokiness and warmth that come from the fire.

14. CANDY CORN

Love it or hate it, candy corn is here to stay. Invented in the 1880s by George Renninger, a candymaker at the Wunderle Candy Company, the tricolor treat was originally called "Chicken Feed" when the Goelitz Candy Company brought it to the masses by the end of that century.

15. GUY FAWKES NIGHT

After Guy Fawkes’ Gunpowder Plot to blow up British Parliament was foiled in 1605, the government declared November 5 a day to celebrate. Even now, more than 400 years later, November 5 is earmarked for fireworks and large bonfires where effigies of Fawkes are burned.

16. BONFIRES

Building giant fires for fun instead of necessity started as a Fourth of July tradition, when towns in New England used to compete to see who could build the tallest pile of flaming debris. Fall bonfires were also a custom, in part because many of the colonists weren't that far removed from participation in Guy Fawkes Night. George Washington hated the tradition due to its anti-Catholic sentiment—another byproduct of the association with Guy Fawkes—calling it a "ridiculous and childish custom" in 1775.

17. TAILGATING

There are a few different theories as to where and when people first gathered to break bread before watching the pigskin get tossed around. The first is that it happened at the very first college football game in 1869, when Princeton played Rutgers. People sat at the "tail end" of their horses to eat and drink. We can also fast-forward to 1904, when people started traveling to games by train. Hungry after a long journey by rail, famished fans brought pre-game snacks to enjoy before kickoff.

Finally, there’s the Green Bay Packers theory, which jibes most with how we tailgate today: Starting in 1919, fans backed their trucks up right to the edge of the field to serve as makeshift bleachers—and, of course, they noshed as they watched.

18. NANOWRIMO

Every November, thousands of writers vow to spend the month hunkering down and finally finishing that novel that’s been bouncing around in their brains. The phenomenon, known as National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, is the brainchild of Chris Baty. In 1999, Baty and 21 of his friends vowed to get 50,000 words down on paper during the month of November. Only six of them succeeded. But word spread, and the next year, 140 people participated. The third year, they surpassed 1000 writers. Last year, 431,626 people completed the challenge.

19. CARVING JACK-O’-LANTERNS

Why do we carve pumpkins? The short answer: Because it’s better than carving turnips.

The long answer: As far back as the 1500s, Irish people told a story about Stingy Jack, a blacksmith who made a deal with the Devil to never claim his soul—but when he died, God wouldn’t let him into Heaven, either. So Jack was doomed to walk the Earth for all eternity, with only a burning coal to light his way—which he carried in a turnip he had carved out. He roams the world to this day as "Jack of the Lantern," or "Jack-O’-Lantern." Irish immigrants eventually brought the tale to the U.S., as well as the related tradition of turnip-carving. Since pumpkins were plentiful in the U.S. and allowed more room for candles, they quickly became the veggie of choice.

20. DETROIT LIONS AND DALLAS COWBOYS FOOTBALL ON THANKSGIVING

The Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game since 1934, when the team moved to Detroit from Portsmouth, Ohio. To get the city excited about the franchise—the second in Detroit—the owner came up with the idea of having a game on Thanksgiving. Because he was well connected, the owner managed to convince NBC to broadcast the game on 94 stations across the U.S. It worked: The Lions filled the stadium to capacity and had to turn fans away at the gate.

When the Dallas Cowboys picked up on the marketing scheme in 1966, fans broke the attendance record. Both teams have upheld the Turkey Day tradition nearly every year since.

21. TURKEY PARDON

Speaking of Turkey Day, the President of the United States has the distinct honor of issuing pardons to a pair of birds every year. The tradition may date back to Abraham Lincoln, who is said to have pardoned a turkey named Jack that his son had befriended. But no real documentation for the turkey pardon exists until John F. Kennedy, who let a turkey given to him by the National Turkey Federation roam free.

22. BUY-NOTHING DAY

If Black Friday isn’t your thing, you can take the opposite tack and participate in Buy Nothing Day, where consumers are challenged to—you guessed it—buy nothing for 24 hours. Founded by artist Ted Dave, the first BND took place in Canada in 1992. In 1997, it was changed to directly counteract the ever-growing madness of Black Friday in the U.S.

23. MACY’S THANKSGIVING DAY PARADE

Actually, when the spectacle debuted in 1924, it was the Macy’s Christmas Parade, and was mainly meant to create publicity for the expansion of Macy’s flagship Manhattan store, which would now cover an entire city block and became the self-proclaimed "World’s Largest Store." The parade was such a hit that they decided to make it an annual event, switching to a Thanksgiving Day celebration in 1927.

24. NEW FALL TV

Autumn’s arrival also means the end of summer reruns. That’s because New York-based radio productions used to shut down for the summer so industry folks could escape to the Catskills or Cape Cod for refuge from the summer heat wave. When many radio stars made the switch to TV, the tradition continued. It works out for the best—most people tend to watch less TV in the summer anyway.

25. PUNKIN CHUNKIN

Sick of all things pumpkin? Chuck them! The World Championship Punkin Chunkin Contest in Bridgeville, Delaware, claims it’s the oldest and largest event of its kind, with the first one taking place in 1986. It's said that Delawarean Bill Thompson invented the strange sport, which started out as a small group and grew when a local radio station became interested in the squashed squash. Today, more than 50,000 spectators show up to watch contestants pitch pumpkins using trebuchets, catapults, centrifugal machines, and other contraptions.

All images courtesy of Getty unless otherwise noted.

6 Tasty Facts About Scrapple

Kate Hopkins, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Kate Hopkins, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Love it or hate it, scrapple is a way of life—especially if you grew up in Pennsylvania or another Mid-Atlantic state like New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, or Virginia. And this (typically) pork-filled pudding isn’t going anywhere. While its popularity in America dates back more than 150 years, the dish itself is believed to have originated in pre-Roman times. In celebration of National Scrapple Day, here’s everything you ever—or never—wanted to know about the dish.

1. Scrapple is typically made of pig parts. Lots and lots of pig parts.

Though every scrapple manufacturer has its own particular recipe, it all boils down to the same basic process—literally: boiling up a bunch of pig scraps (yes, the parts you don’t want to know are in there) to create a stock which is then mixed with cornmeal, flour, and a handful of spices to create a slurry. Once the consistency is right, chopped pig parts are added in and the mixture is turned into a loaf and baked.

As the dish has gained popularity, chefs have put their own unique spins on it, adding in different meats and spices to play with the flavor. New York City’s Ivan Ramen even cooked it up waffle-style.

2. People were eating scrapple long before it made its way to America.

People often think that the word scrapple derives from scraps, and it’s easy to understand why. But it’s actually an Americanized derivation of panhaskröppel, a German word meaning "slice of rabbit." Much like its modern-day counterpart, skröppel—which dates back to pre-Roman times—was a dish that was designed to make use of every part of its protein (in this case, a rabbit). It was brought to America in the 17th and 18th centuries by German colonists who settled in the Philadelphia area.

In 1863, the first mass-produced version of scrapple arrived via Habbersett, which is still making the product today. They haven’t tweaked the recipe much in the past 150-plus years, though they do offer a beef version as well.

3. If your scrapple is gray, you're a-ok.

A dull gray isn’t normally the most appetizing color you’d want in a meat product, but that’s the color a proper piece of scrapple should be. (It is typically pork bits, after all.)

4. Scrapple can be topped with all kinds of goodies.

Though there’s no rule that says you can’t enjoy a delicious piece of scrapple at any time of day, it’s considered a breakfast meat. As such, it’s often served with (or over) eggs but can be topped with all sorts of condiments; while some people stick with ketchup or jelly, others go wild with applesauce, mustard, maple syrup, and honey to make the most of the sweet-and-salty flavor combo. There’s also nothing wrong with being a scrapple purist and eating it as is.

5. Dogfish Head made a scrapple beer.

The master brewers at Delaware’s Dogfish Head have never been afraid to get experimental with their flavors. In 2014, they created a Beer for Breakfast Stout that was brewed with Rapa pork scrapple. A representative for the scrapple brand called the collaboration a "unique proposition." Indeed.

6. Delaware holds an annual scrapple festival each October.

Speaking of Delaware: It’s also home to the country’s oldest—and largest—annual scrapple festival. Originating in 1992, the Apple Scrapple Festival in Bridgeville, Delaware is a yearly celebration of all things pig parts, which includes events like a ladies skillet toss and a scrapple chunkin’ contest. More than 25,000 attendees make the trek annually.

11 Honorable Ways You Can Help Veterans

BasSlabbers/iStock via Getty Images
BasSlabbers/iStock via Getty Images

This Veterans Day, make a difference in the lives of former military members. Just thanking a veteran can go a long way, but an act of kindness means even more. Here are 11 ways you can show vets that you appreciate the sacrifices they made.

1. Pick up the tab for a veteran's coffee or meal.

elderly man at a parade with a sign thanking veterans
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The next time you see a veteran in a restaurant or standing in line for coffee, pick up the tab. You can do so anonymously if you would prefer, but even a quick "thank you for your service" would mean a lot to the veteran. You don't have to limit yourself to dinner or a latte—you could pay for a tank of gas, a prescription, or a cart of groceries.

2. Drive a veteran to a doctor's appointment.

military man in wheelchair talking to doctor
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Many veterans, especially those who are infirm or disabled, have trouble making it to their doctor appointments. If you have a driver’s license, you can volunteer for the Department of Veterans Affairs (DAV) Transportation Network, a service provided by all 170 VA medical facilities. To help, contact the hospital service coordinator [PDF] at your local VA Hospital.

3. Train a service dog to help veterans.

military man hugging a dog
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Service dogs aid veterans with mobile disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorder, helping them rediscover physical and emotional independence. It takes approximately two years and $33,000 to properly train one service dog, so donations and training volunteers are critical. Even if you aren't equipped to train a dog, some organizations need "weekend puppy raisers," which help service dogs learn how to socialize, play, and interact with different types of people.

There are several organizations that provide this service for veterans, including Patriot PAWS and Puppy Jake.

4. Replace one light bulb in your home with a green one.

A green light bulb
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The Greenlight a Vet project is a simple way to remind yourself and others about the sacrifices veterans have made for our country, and to show your appreciation to them. Simply purchase a green bulb and place it somewhere in your home—a porch lamp is ideal since it's most visible to others. Over 9 million people across the nation have logged their green lights into the project's nationwide map so far.

5. Help sponsor an honor flight to veterans memorials.

A group of veterans visit the Vietnam memorial in Washington D.C.
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Many of the veterans who fought for our freedoms have never seen the national memorials honoring their efforts—and their fallen friends. Honor Flights helps send veterans of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam to Washington D.C. to see their monuments. You can help sponsor one of those flights.

6. Write a letter to thank a veteran.

Veterans Day parade
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Operation Gratitude is an organization that coordinates care packages, gifts, and letters of thanks to veterans. You can work through them to send your appreciation to a vet, or volunteer to help assemble care packages. And, if you still have candy kicking around from Halloween, Operation Gratitude also mails sweets to deployed troops.

7. Volunteer at a VA hospital.

a veteran saluting the American flag
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Whatever your talents are, they'll certainly be utilized at a Veterans Administration Hospital. From working directly with patients to helping with recreational programs or even just providing companionship, your local VA Hospital would be thrilled to have a few hours of your time.

8. Get involved with a Veterans Assistance Program.

veteran marching in a military parade
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There are veterans in your community that could use help—but how do you find them? Contact a local veterans assistance program, such as the one offered by DAV. They'll be able to put you in touch with local vets who need help doing chores like yard work, housework, grocery shopping, or running errands.

9. Help veterans with job training.

military men meeting in an office setting
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Adjusting to civilian life after military service isn't always smooth sailing. Hire Heroes helps vets with interview skills, resumes, and training so they can find a post-military career. They even partner with various employers to host a job board. Through Hire Heroes, you can help veterans with mock interviews, career counseling, job searches, workshops, and more.

10. Help build a house for a veteran.

Volunteers help build a house
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Building Homes for Heroes builds or modifies homes to suit the needs of veterans injured in Iraq or Afghanistan. The houses are given mortgage-free to veterans and their families. You can volunteer your painting, carpentry, plumbing, wiring, and other skilled services—or you can just donate to the cause.

11. Volunteer for an "Operation Reveille" event for homeless veterans.

military dog tag that says
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The VA continually hosts Operation Reveille, a series of one- to three-day events that give much-needed supplies and services to homeless veterans. Vets can receive everything from food and clothing to health screenings, housing solutions, substance abuse treatment, and mental health counseling. They take place at various places across the nation all year long, so contact the representative in your state about when and how you can volunteer.

This story first ran in 2017.

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