1940s Thanksgiving Ragamuffins

Here’s a forgotten Thanksgiving tradition for you:

This home movie from the 1940s shows the now-extinct tradition of costumed kids begging for coins on Thanksgiving morning. They’d dress in rags and oversized hand-me-downs in the manner of poor children, then chant “Anything for Thanksgiving?” as they knocked on their neighbors’ doors in a manner not unlike that of a certain Halloween custom. The Ragamuffins, as they were called, flourished in Brooklyn and Queens up through the 1940s, then faded away and disappeared during in the 1950s. Few remember them today.

One reason for The Ragamuffins’ demise was that many of the parents who had lived through the Great Depression found the idea of their children posing as beggars to be quite distasteful. Trick-or-treating with its emphasis on candy and fanciful characters seemed a far more wholesome and appropriate activity for children during the 1950s, so the parents encouraged Halloween, and actively discouraged The Ragamuffins until they were history.

Note the purses that many of kids, including the boys, are holding, and the coins in their hands. Some of the costumes appear to be holdovers from Halloween, which makes sense as the two holidays were close to each other on the calendar.

The ragamuffin spirit was revived – – well, sort of – – for a few years during the 1960’s by the “Trick or Treat for UNICEF” campaign that was sponsored by the United Nations. (If you’re from that generation, you may remember the little orange UNICEF boxes that the kids carried for collecting pennies on Halloween night.) The big difference was that the money now went to worldwide charities. Perhaps, if the original ragamuffins had made that change to their practice, we’d still be hearing “Anything for Thanksgiving?” on Thanksgiving morning today.

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