Ever wonder about the origins of the employee turkey gift tradition? For almost as long as turkeys have played a starring role on the Thanksgiving dinner table, companies have been giving turkeys to their employees at Thanksgiving as an expression of appreciation.
It’s an American tradition that has stayed with us for generations — and it’s more relevant than ever today!
There’s a reason why the New York Times calls employee turkey gifts a workplace “ritual” — buying turkeys for employees is a practical, meaningful and appreciated holiday gift.
It’s also smart business.
Employee appreciation is crucial now more than ever in the post-recession economy, as employers discover that employee appreciation builds a relationship beyond a paycheck.
Holiday turkey gifts, when accompanied by clearly expressed “thanks” from management, build employee engagement and a stronger culture of workplace gratitude. Engage your workforce this holiday season with a Thanksgiving turkey gift. Download “10 Reasons to Give Employees a Turkey for the Holidays” for a one-page sheet to share with your team.
Read on to learn how the employee turkey gift tradition started and why it’s still important today.
How the Employee Turkey Gift Tradition Started
So how did turkeys become America’s favorite workplace gift for Thanksgiving?
Turkey — a uniquely American bird — may or may not have been part of the first Thanksgiving, but by the mid-1800s, it was quickly catching on as the Thanksgiving centerpiece.
The turkey tradition took off after President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863 to celebrate “blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies.”
Turkey naturally became the iconic American symbol of gratitude and a bountiful harvest. By the 1940s, the National Turkey Federation was presenting the White House with an honorary bird for Thanksgiving.
Companies were quick to recognize the value of sharing turkeys with their employees at Thanksgiving. Historians date the employee turkey tradition to the manufacturing boom of the 1800s, as a way to introduce immigrant workers to American culture and the holiday spirit of Thanksgiving.
Some companies carried on the practice even when turkeys were rationed or in short supply. During World War II, one creative Long Island company bought turkey eggs and had them hatched and raised in time for holiday gift-giving.
Early adopters of the employee turkey tradition may also have been following the precedent set in Charles Dicken’s classic tale of redemption, “A Christmas Carol,” published in 1843. The turning point of the story comes when Ebenezer Scrooge buys the “prize turkey” hanging in the window of the neighborhood butcher and sends it as a gift to the family of his clerk, Bob Cratchit.
Historians speculate that 19th-century bosses were inspired by this grand gesture of goodwill that transformed Scrooge’s reputation from miserly to big-hearted.
Scrooge’s “prize turkey” has since become an iconic company gift and a heartwarming symbol of holiday cheer.
Why the Tradition Continues…
By the numbers, turkeys are popular. The National Turkey Federation estimates that Americans consume 46 million turkeys at Thanksgiving alone — not to mention 22 million at Christmas, 19 million at Easter and more than 113 million during the rest of the year.
But turkeys are more than just a popular meal.
Sharing a turkey holiday meal is a symbol of gratitude, celebrates harvest bounty and reminds us of the importance of our social connections. Turkey is the centerpiece to the beloved tradition of a big Thanksgiving feast celebrated and shared with family and friends.
In American households, the turkey is synonymous with giving thanks and family. In the midst of the hectic holiday season, special meals like Thanksgiving are a chance to slow down and appreciate one another. We associate fond memories with Thanksgiving — the aroma of turkey cooking, the sense of belonging, the joy of being with family and friends, and the gratitude we feel to those who came before us and to the younger generations who will carry on the tradition.
Turkeys embody the grateful spirit of the season — and that’s why the employee turkey gift tradition has endured for generations! When your employees sit down to their Thanksgiving dinners, your company and your appreciation will be on their minds.
Lisa’s Story: ‘Everyone Wins!!’ When We Share Appreciation
Several years ago we asked customers to share their answers to this question, Why is it important to give employees a Thanksgiving turkey?
We got many great responses, but one from Lisa, an administrative assistant in California, really resonated with the team here at gThankYou because her eloquent reflection on the employee turkey gift tradition she experienced as a child is focuses on an important lesson in gratitude that she learned from her father and his boss.
“When I was a young girl, my Dad worked as the maintenance supervisor at the General Electric plant in my small Midwestern hometown.
“On the Wednesday before every Thanksgiving, Dad would come home from work with a nice, big turkey. Every year he would tell me that it was a gift for ME — from HIS boss. I recall to this day how that made me feel. My Dad’s BOSS actually cared about ME. How cool was that?!
“I started sending a ‘Thank you’ note for my Dad to give his boss on the Monday following Thanksgiving, every year … until his boss passed away.
“That was the year that MY DAD became THE BOSS. When he came home on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving that year, he did not have a turkey with him. I was a little upset with him; I remember telling him that his boss would have been upset if he found out that my Dad had not carried on his tradition!
“My Dad calmly sat me down and told me that the company HAD bought turkeys for all of the employees, but that they had run short so he gave our turkey to one of the people who would not have gotten one. Besides, he said, he and Mom had already bought one for us.
“Then, he told me that he DID have something to give me; a gift from his OLD BOSS. I was perplexed; I knew that his boss had passed away earlier that year …
“Dad pulled a large envelope out of his pocket and gave it to me. We sat together on the front porch and looked inside…
“There were ALL of the THANK YOU notes I had sent to his boss over the years! My Dad put his arm around me and told me that his boss always looked forward to receiving my homemade Thank You cards — just as much as I looked forward to seeing my Dad come home with those beautiful turkeys every year.
“So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that not only is it rewarding to be able to show some of your appreciation to the people you work with, but when they in turn take the time to show THEIR appreciation, EVERYONE wins!!”
Thank you, Lisa, for sharing your story!
Share your Thanksgiving turkey gift with a heartfelt note of appreciation. Download our free eBook, “Put the Thanks in Thanksgiving: How to Write a Thanksgiving Letter to Employees” and learn from workplace leaders how to write a Thanksgiving letter of gratitude that will be memorable for years to come.
Need more reasons to carry on this generations-old workplace tradition and give employees a Thanksgiving turkey? gThankYou! Turkey Gift Certificates and Turkey Or Ham Gift Certificates make it easy for you and your recipients, no matter how big or how spread-out your organization is. Sharing the centerpiece to the Thanksgiving meal lets your employees know you really care. Plus, with gThankYou! Gift Certificates they have the flexibility to choose the turkey they want, at the store they want, when they want it!
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