It may be difficult to imagine today, but throughout the decades leading up to 1959, Thanksgiving was indeed the warm and cherished holiday it is today for Culver students — but it was one cherished strictly on campus, not at home.
With the difficulties of long-distance travel in the decades before the Jet Age made it fairly quick and accessible, Thanksgiving weekend at Culver was a festive, multi-day event combining many of the customs of today’s Fall Parents Weekend with traditional observations associated with the holiday, and some by-gone highlights as well.
One such event was the much-anticipated Thanksgiving football game, in those days when the pigskin was still being pursued for weeks after the end of today’s varsity season.
And just as “June Week” once sought to honor the lengths to which parents and alums had to go to travel to campus for Commencement – in those days typically by train, but also by automobile by 1915 or so – by combining an array of activities ranging from dances to exhibitions over several days, Thanksgiving weekend similarly aimed to be worthwhile for parents to make the difficult trek to campus.
Classes ended after Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, with the inter-company football game ruling the day either Wednesday or Thursday (depending on which year), and fall student theatrical performances that evening.
Thanksgiving Day saw battalion reviews and various competitions prior to a later morning chapel service followed by a lunchtime Thanksgiving dinner.
“The menu was long,” wrote an unnamed student recalling the 1906 feast, “and full of things that were expected at a Thanksgiving dinner.”
One pinnacle of the weekend, mirrored in today’s Fall Ball, was the Thanksgiving ball, often with musical accompaniment by a visiting band of note, and always starting with the cherished and longstanding Officers Figure. Anticipation was even higher given the usual absence of girls in a pre-CGA campus environment. Thanksgiving was one of a handful of opportunities through the school year to see one’s best girl from home, or to dance with new arrivals from whatever girls’ school had been sequestered for the evening.
Friday’s schedule included a garrison review and a handful of exhibitions typical of a parent-visiting weekend, with other such offerings on a Saturday concluding with an informal dance.
But as the years marched on, a change was in the November air. The Oct. 9, 1959 Vedette wrote, on its cover, “Fall Festival Weekend, the newest event in the CMA calendar, will be held next weekend. It combines the activities formerly held over Thanksgiving weekend with the annual Father’s Weekend events.
Thus was born the tradition which morphed quickly into Culver’s annual Fall Parents Weekend, a more conducive time as far as weather and climate are concerned, to many of the activities offered.
It’s safe to say that Thanksgiving, the school year’s first lengthy departure from campus, nowadays is nearly as welcome to Culver students today as seeing Plymouth Rock must have been to the weary pilgrims…even if “Thanksgiving at Culver” is a thing of hardly-remembered and distant past.