Thanksgiving or Drinksgiving, as it has been jokingly referred to recently, has a very long history with alcohol. Most likely longer than you think. Not to mention, the day before Thanksgiving holds the record for highest alcohol sales. How did this happen? How did a holiday meant to give thanks turn into one of the most profitable times for those in the alcohol service industry? We do a deep dive and explain.
The pilgrims and alcohol
The pilgrims did in fact drink alcohol, a lot of alcohol. By todays standards the average pilgrim was drinking around 3-4x more than the average adult. And it wasn’t just adults. Children were also known to drink, often before school. Clearly the effects of alcohol were not as well known, so many allowed their children to drink as much as they wanted. Another main reason for this, is the lack of clean water.
The Mayflower was not originally planned to stop at Plymouth Rock. The shipped landed there because they had run out of beer. This may sound like a very expensive beer run but it was actually necessary. According to historians “due to the unsafe drinking water, passengers on the Mayflower drank beer as a main hydration source. Each person was rationed a gallon per day.” As the ship was approaching Plymouth Rock, they had run out of clean water and it was beer to the rescue.
The alcohol that was consumed was mostly made of apples. What we would consider today a hard cider. This type of drink was extremely popular in England and was essentially just fermented apple juice. Once the pilgrims landed and saw the abundance of apples in America, this traditional European drink continued.
Native Americans and alcohol
Indigenous North Americans have both made and consumed alcohol for more than 1,000 years. Their knowledge of alcohol went beyond just fermented apples. Historians mention a beer/wine made from a sasaguaro cactus, called Tiswin. Also, a beer by the name of Tulpi or Tulapa. Not only did they have different alcoholic beverages, they also had very different reasons for drinking than the English.
Most of the alcohol you read about during this time was used for some sort of ceremonial purpose. Alcohol was considered more sacred and not as commonly used. This is especially true when you compare the alcohol usage to the Pilgrims. The Pilgrims were drinking on a mostly daily bases where as most Indigenous North Americans had only had alcohol during some sort of ceremony.
How did Thanksgiving become the biggest drinking day of the year?
Settlers established the first licensed tavern in Boston in 1633, followed by the first commercial brewery in 1637. Because drinking was such common practice, the alcohol industry grew exponentially. Gregg Smith writes in Beer in America
The Early Years—1587-1840: Beer’s Role in the Settling of America and the Birth of a Nation, “Vigorous economic growth encouraged [town and city dwellers] to indulge in the luxury of buying commercially brewed beer. Greater turnover of currency placed more luxuries, including relief from household work, within reach of the growing populace.”
While Thanksgiving itself isn’t considered a drinking holiday, the night before sure is. Unfortunately nick named, black out Wednesday, the day before has year after year held the record for highest alcohol sales. Most of this is due to people being back home for the holidays and having the following days off of work. Almost every city in America sees a large increase in alcohol sales during this time.
Remember if you are in the alcohol service industry to be extra careful the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Don’t be afraid to cut people off if necessary. Watch out for fake I’D’s and make sure no one drives home drunk! For any refreshers on proper alcohol serving make sure you check out our online course Comedy Seller Server.