Yankee Doodle’s Macaroni: Spoiler Alert…It’s Not About Pasta

By | June 25, 2019

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Cover of Yankee Doodle children's book, published by McLoughlin Bros., portrays the Uncle Sam character, New York, NY, 1880. Source: (Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)

This Fourth of July holiday, you might be tempted to sing a litany of patriotic tunes to help you celebrate America’s Independence Day. You might enjoy “The Star-Spangled Banner”, “God Bless the USA”, or even “Yankee Doodle”. If you are like most of us, you have probably paused once or twice to wonder, why does Yankee Doodle stick a feather in his hat and then refer to it a macaroni? What does that little, elbow-shaped noodle, best friend of cheese, have to do with feathers and the American Revolutionary War? Let’s find out. 

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The tune for "Yankee Doodle" may have been used as a Hessian drinking song. Remember the Hessians? They were the drunken German troops at the battle of Trenton. Source: (newegg.com)

An Old Tune

The music to which “Yankee Doodle” is set seems to go back much older than Revolutionary War times. Some historians place it around the 1500s in Holland. The lyrics to this original version talked about mundane stuff, like farming and selling milk. The tune, however, was quite catchy and it was easy to substitute other words in to fit one’s own needs. It was used as the framework for children’s ditties and nursery rhymes, Hessian drinking songs, and also used for political and social satirical songs.