Nov 20, 2023 - News

Utah's diamond-dusted, up-til-dawn Thanksgiving nightlife of yore

An old newspaper reads "THANKSGIVING BALL! Thursday Evening NOVEMBER 29."
An ad in the Park Record, Nov. 24, 1883. Image via Utah Digital Newspapers, hosted by the University of Utah.

If anyone lectures that Thanksgiving should be a family-only affair or dishes up heaping spoonfuls of guilt if you dare to eat at a restaurant or party with friends — they've got it all wrong.

  • Shortly after it was made an official holiday by President Abraham Lincoln, Thanksgiving had become a time to go out and, most importantly, be seen.

What happened: Notices of lavish balls and theatrical productions for Thanksgiving started appearing in Utah newspapers by 1868.

Of note: The earliest Utah Thanksgiving-related ad we found for consumer goods was not for food.

  • It was for lace fans, kid gloves and other fancy accessories the old ZCMI department store was selling in 1871 for the holiday.

Details: Utah's early Thanksgiving balls were elaborate, all-night dos.

  • At a hotel party in 1870, guests didn't start eating until 1am and then danced until "the wee hours." (Did old-timey turkey not contain tryptophan?)

Zoom in: The subsequent write-up in the Salt Lake Herald-Republican devotes 24 paragraphs to the outfits women wore to the party.

  • "Mrs. G—— was resplendent in a white moire-antique bridal dress, with train and black chantilla flounces. Her head dress was a chignon of latest style, with curls in front, sprinkled with diamond powder. To our mind she was the best dressed lady in the assemblage," a correspondent wrote.

The bottom line: Congrats to Mrs. G and anyone else who gets the chance to live it up Thursday.


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