The Mystery of the Saint, "F' Thanksgiv'n" and Red Pennies - NBC New York

The Mystery of the Saint, "F' Thanksgiv'n" and Red Pennies

Is there a lost Manhattan tradition that involved an Estonian saint's day and scalding young children with burning coins? Probably.

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    The Mystery of the Saint, "F' Thanksgiv'n" and Red Pennies
    Ghaith Abdul-Ahad/Getty Images
    Could the roots of a somewhat bizarre New York holiday tradition be traced back to a Estonian saint's day?

    "Anything f' Thanksgiv'n?" It sounds like it might be an obscenity, shouted at relatives perhaps, but this is, in fact, the cry heard on Ragamuffin Day, which had been celebrated in certain New York neighborhoods until about 80 years ago. On this day, children would dress in old clothes, blacken their faces with burnt cork and go door-to-door and to corner bars (until prohibition ruined that fun, too) shouting "Anything f' Thanksgiv'n?" And in return get pennies, the odd nickel or candy in return.

    We're totally not making this up. NewYorkShitty has a column from the the November 27, 1931 edition of the Times, with a beat cop in on the west side bemoaning the passing of the tradition. He gets especially misty over the loss of the fun of "red pennies." This was what they called it when people, people who maybe weren't pleased to have children in funny costumes shouting outside their windows in the morning, would toss pennies that had been heated on the stove out the window.

    The custom of Ragamuffin Day apparently held on in Greenpoint longer than in other parts of the city and was observed into the 1960s. Ten years ago Greenpoint.comdevoted a page to finding more about the day, and speculates that it has its roots in St. Martin's Day, celebrated throughout parts of Western Europe. St. Martin, the patron saint of beggers and drunks, is certainly suggested by the children's hobo drag, and on the Estonian version of the holiday, children wore costumes and went to neighbors homes singing. One imagines the red penny was a New York innovation.