Where did the ongoing ‘do a good deed and the mayor of the town congratulates you with the key to the city’ in movies & shows come from? Was that ever a real thing?

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I’m watching family guy & Peter found a missing kid and as a reward the mayor gave him the key to the city (or town hall?).
I’ve also seen this happen in a few other movies.

Was this ever a real thing? Is this an inside joke I’m not aware of?

In: 2567

The “key to the city” comes from serfdom, where it was originally called the “freedom of the city,” meaning that the honored person was to be treated as a free person, not a serf, while they were in the city. The “key to the city” derives from the custom of walled cities closing and locking their gates up at night; if you wanted to enter, you’d either have to wait until morning or convince a guard that you had an important enough reason to open the gates. However, if you have a “key” to the gates, that meant that you could open them whenever you wished; you had the freedom to enter/exit the city as you desired. Hence, the “key to the city” phrase replaced “freedom of the city”.

It is entirely symbolic/honorific. Since serfdom is long gone, there are no privileges or protections to be gained by not being a serf, so getting a “key to the city” is just an indicator that the city government appreciates something you’ve done.

In the city I grew up in, Santa was given the key to the city each year at the Thanksgiving parade… or it may have been at the tree lighting ceremony.

Yes this was a real thing.

Here’s Saddam Hussein receiving the key to the city of Detroit

https://images.app.goo.gl/ypk2ajXLH8gDvCvHA

Yes, it was real, here’s KISS receiving the keys to the city in Sault Ste Marie for some bizarre reason 😆
https://blabbermouth.net/news/kiss-receives-city-key-to-sault-ste-marie-video-available