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.
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.
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