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Eileen Obser | “Anything f’Thanksgiv’n?”


This is taken from an essay that was published in The East Hampton Star in November 2007 and is part of my “Cousin Buddy” series of memoirs. The longer version can be seen on my website: www.eileenobser.com under Read My Work. I’d love to hear from readers who shared this Thanksgiving custom in other parts of the country.

When I was growing up in Glendale, Queens in the 1950s, it was the custom for young children to dress up, usually as hoboes, on Thanksgiving mornings, and go door-to-door in our neighborhood and beg: “Anything f’Thanksgiv’n?” This was a tradition in parts of the New York metropolitan area since the 1920s and 1930s and perhaps even earlier.

According to a Greenpoint, Brooklyn website (gone now, in 2013), the custom may be related to St. Martin Day, “which was widely practiced in both western and some eastern European countries.” The website invited people to submit their “Anything f’Thanksgiv’n” recollections, stating that “there is very little or no written history of this unique Thanksgiving custom.”

People from Astoria, Jamaica, St. Albans, Ridgewood, Cypress Hills, the Bronx, Jersey City, and especially old-time residents of Greenpoint, sent in their memories. Begging on Thanksgiving was neighborhood specific and, in some cases, block specific.

In Glendale, we never went trick or treating for Halloween, nor did we wear costumes; they were only worn on Thanksgiving. My cousin, Buddy, and I would dress for begging, rummaging through our parents’ closets looking for the right, worn out baggy pants and threadbare jackets. Then we’d pick out hats. I carried an old handbag while Buddy held a stick with a bag on the end for our loot. Our moms applied burnt wine cork to our faces for a more realistic hobo look. “Be back by noon!” we were told. Thanksgiving dinner was served around one o’clock. The turkeys were already roasting in the family ovens, upstairs and down.

“Anything f’ Thanksgiv’n?” Buddy and I were usually greeted with a smile and handed pennies, candies, walnuts, or even an apple or orange. Sometimes we even got nickels.

We walked much farther as we got older, past Central Avenue, all the way beyond Myrtle Avenue, Glendale’s main thoroughfare, to beg at the one and two-family houses in that area. Sometimes, a man would come out from one of the saloons on the avenue. “Here, kids,” he’d say. “Now don’t you look cute!” And he’d hand us a dime each, maybe even a quarter. Other people in the tavern, which smelled strongly of beer and whiskey even way out on the sidewalk, would laugh and clap their hands. The man would wave us off and go back inside.

Finally, when we had enough of walking and of begging, we’d head slowly back to our house. We might have been out close to three hours. At home, we’d sit on the front stoop, if it wasn’t too cold, and spread our loot out on the steps. We had agreed to save this money to buy Christmas presents.

After hugging each other, we went inside the warm house to our families and to the aroma of turkey and homemade fruit pies. We had just enough time to get cleaned up so we could sit down with our families for the Thanksgiving feast.

– – – – –

This year, I’m grateful for many things, including the fact that my memoir, Only You, will be published by Oak Tree Press in January. See the Book page on my website for some details.

A very Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

23 Responses to “Anything f’Thanksgiv’n?”

  1. Unbelievable…things sure are different today.

  2. Eileen Obser says:

    Thanks for your reply, my friend. I guess you didn’t dress up way back then, right? Happy Thanksgiving to Bruce, you and your family.

  3. Bud Zito says:

    Hi Eileen,
    I too remember beggin for “Thanksgiv’n”.
    Lived in Lindenhurst at that time. (I was about 8 to 10 years old)
    Our families would make us up as “Raga Muffins.” We would patrol the neighborhood in family gangs.Siblings, cousins,and best friends. Most families would warmly greet us and offer goodies. I remember the laughter and good times we had together.There was one street where the “Well To Do” lived.That was our gold mine.
    No, We did not celebrate Halloween in those days. That came after I was a teenager. By that time I was too old
    As kids,we were very close. I still have many of those relatives and friends in my life. It’s still fun to go back and revisit those days. .
    Thanks for evoking those memories.
    PS/ You may share my email address if anyone is interested.

    • Eileen Obser says:

      I’m so glad to hear from you, Bud, and to learn of at least one other person who had the same experience that I did! Lindenhurst — who would’ve thought. We did not celebrate Halloween either, except bobbing for applies downstairs in my aunt’s kitchen — my brother, my five cousins, and me. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, Bud, and keep in touch! (Elmore Leonard is the one who hated exclamation points. I think they’re fine for holidays and other special events.)

  4. Maria Ruiz says:

    This is the first time I’ve heard of that custom. Sounds like Halloween rolled up with Thanksgiving. It would be interesting to find out how far back it goes. Thank you Eileen for sharing something new.

    • Eileen Obser says:

      Thanks for the comment, Maria. If enough people respond, include a few historians, maybe I’ll find out how far back it goes. Love to Ted and you and Happy Thanksgiving to you both!

  5. Mary Vettel says:

    I remember reading this one years ago. How nice to have that slice of time captured for all time. Happy Thanksgiving, Eileen.

    • Eileen Obser says:

      I’m glad you remember this Buddy piece, Mary. It seemed so holiday-appropriate, now that I’m an official blogger. Thinking of you and wishing you and your family a very Happy Thanksgiving.

  6. Here’s a memory from Thanksgivings past: OnThanksgiving my mom splurged and bought ripe olives for the table. We all loved them. One year she got pitted ones and by the time the dish got half way around, they were all gone. Nextr year she went back to the ones with pits and counted the pits on your plate to make certain you didn’t take too many.

    • Eileen Obser says:

      I love this olive story. Or as my father, the punster, would say, “Olived it!” Everyone has a different story, and isn’t that great for writers. This could show up in your next book, or perhaps my story will. Enjoy the holidays!

  7. Pat Shevlin says:

    One decade later, same County, different town (Flushing), my oldest Thanksgiving memory was watching my mother “X” chestnuts the night before to boil and prep for the stuffing. There were special plates — we called them our turkey plates, but in reality I believe it is a pheasant front and center. When you are a City kid, what’s the difference! Do you remember how much loot you collected after three hours? I have a picture of you and Buddy being friends with Spanky, Darla and Alfalfa! Gobble, gobble, gobble; enjoy this memory-filled holiday!

    • Eileen Obser says:

      Thanks for your comment, Pat. One thing I never got into was chestnuts, in stuffing or elsewhere. What have I missed? Happy Thanksgiving!

  8. John says:

    Thanks for the info Eileen, never knew this. I still have people in my life that need a little “anything f Thanksgin n”, but thank God we can help where we can. Have a happy!

    • Eileen Obser says:

      Great to hear from you, John. All best wishes you and yours for Thanksgiving and the upcoming holiday season.

  9. Carole Avila says:

    Thank you for sharing your story and your curious Thanksgiving custom. I hope you and all your readers have an amazing holiday!

    • Eileen Obser says:

      Good to hear from you, Carole. I wish the same for you — a wonderful Thanksgiving and upcoming holiday season.

  10. Toni Hallock says:

    Hi Eileen I enjoyed your story and definitely have something of a curious a
    nature to add.
    We never went begging on Thanksgiving, but on Halloween, my brother Nick and I would find the same clothes you and Buddy wore on Thanksgiving, right down the hobo stick and bandana. The most exciting part for us was having my mother burn the wine cork on the stove and blacken out faces.
    My mother was from Brooklyn, and my dad originally was from West End Avenue in Manhattan. Evidently the custom you described was familiar to one of them. Perhaps they remembered doing the hobo thing on Thanksgiving, and just kept the outfit idea for our Halloween outfits. We wore this EVERY year.
    I never found anyone else who dressed this way. Keith had never heard of it.
    Thanks for shaing the story Eileen, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

    Happy Thanksgiving to you!

    • Eileen Obser says:

      You do have an unusual twist on my story, don’t you? Halloween became my Thanksgiving and yes, it could be that your parents did the hobo thing, as you put it. I wonder if the neighboring kids joined you in dressing this way and going begging — or was it just Nick and you? Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  11. Bud Zito says:

    Happy Thanksgiving too you Eileen!
    Did I mention they had a “Rag A Muffin” Parade?
    True. We marched down the center of town following the Lindenhurst High School Band

  12. Jerry Giammatteo says:

    Hi Eileen and Happy Thanksgiving. I enjoyed reading your story. It is so interesting to read about traditions, particularly ones that I had never heard of. What a great custom, and what a great way to use the money – for Christmas presents. As the years go by, the memories of traditions such as these become more treasured and add that much more to the present Holiday Season. Take care and have an awesome Holiday Season.


  13. Lorelle says:

    We did it too, in Williston Park, and had forgotten. Lorelle

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