27 Crazy Facts About Thanksgiving
Our country's first holiday has a history richer than gravy.
Thanksgiving is a special holiday for many reasons—the food, the family, and the football are just a few. Less well known, however, are the zany facts behind many of the holiday’s longest traditions, formalities, and myths. The truth is, if we all knew just how strange Thanksgiving is, we might feel a bit more ambivalent—or twice as zealous, depending on your personality—to celebrate it.
So before you get down to business next Thursday—munching your way into a layer of personal insulation for the coming winter—take the time to become familiar with some of the craziest facts associated with what is otherwise affectionately known as Turkey Day. While some may surprise you, others may make you think twice, and a few will confirm your longest held suspicions. At the very least, you’ll have to something to bring up during the festivities when trying desperately to steer the conversation away from politics. And to see how Thanksgiving celebrations vary by community, check out How Thanksgiving Is Different Across The Country.
The First Thanksgiving Lasted Three Days
The event commonly referred to as the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in October 1621 by the Pilgrims and their Native American allies. It was organized by Governor William Bradford of Plymouth to celebrate the recent immigrants’ first successful harvest in the New World. While the meal lacked much of what is now common Thanksgiving fare—there was no oven, for one—there were at least five deer carcass present, and the event lasted a full three days. And if you’re curious about how lengthy eating sprees this winter might affect you, Here’s How Much Weight the Average Person Gains During the Holidays.
Two Towns In Texas Also Claim To Be the Site of the “First Thanksgiving”
While the “first thanksgiving” is generally considered to be the meal shared by the Pilgrims and the Native Americans in 1621 Plymouth, Massachusetts, there are at least two towns in Texas claiming to have been the site of earlier thanksgiving feasts. El Paso, for one, claims it was host to a day of thanksgiving celebrated by the Spanish explorer Juan de Oñate in 1598. The town has been observing that thanksgiving—in April—since 1989. Meanwhile, a another group within the state claims that the Spanish explorer Francisco Vázquez de Coronado observed the first thanksgiving in Palo Duro Canyon in 1541 to celebrate a successful expedition. Don’t worry about your travel plans, though—Thanksgiving won’t be changing it’s date anytime soon.
Thanksgiving Honors the Subduing of a Tax Rebellion
The first national Thanksgiving was declared by President George Washington and was celebrated on November 26, 1789. His “Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789” describes his hope that “we may all then unite in rendering…our sincere and humble thanks.” It wasn’t until 1795, however, that it became a permanent federal holiday, when Washington issued yet another proclamation declaring it so—this time to honor the subduing of a taxation rebellion in Pennsylvania.
Ben Franklin Never Actually Wanted To Replace the Bald Eagle
It’s often repeated that Ben Franklin wanted the turkey to be the national bird instead of the bald eagle. However, he didn’t. The myth stems from a letter he wrote his daughter in which he lamented that the “Bald Eagle…is a bird of bad moral Character,” while the turkey is “a much more respectable Bird.” Though Franklin did apparently prefer the turkey, he never proposed it replace the bald eagle as the national bird. He even went on to admit that the turkey, too, was “a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage.” And for more falsities stuck in the sands of time, check out The 40 Most Enduring Myths in American History.
Thanksgiving Is The Most Popular Day In The U.S. For Racing
“In recent years,” says Michael Schiferl, EVP of Integrated Media at Weber Shandwick, “Turkey Trots have become as synonymous with Thanksgiving as the turkey itself.” “In fact,” he explains, “more than one million people participate in upwards of 1,300 races in the United States annually—making Thanksgiving the largest race day of the entire year.” While “many think just about turkey, family, and football,” he asks, “what about running?”
Turkeys Are Named After The Country, The Result Of A Confusion Between Birds
During the time of the Ottoman Empire, guinea fowl—birds which closely resembles turkeys—were often imported from their native North Africa to Europe, to be eaten. Because Europeans received them from Turkish traders, they referred to them as turkey-hens or turkey-cocks. When settlers from the Americas began sending what we call turkeys back to their European counterparts, the latter—confused by the resemblance—began referring to them by the same name. Thus, we have turkeys.
The Presidential “Pardon” Of A Turkey Was Originally A Joke
Presidents began receiving Turkeys in 1947, when the poultry industry sent “Hens for Harry” to protest the Truman administration’s promotions of “poultryless Thursdays.” After the first ladies of Nixon and Carter both gave their turkeys to a farm or zoo rather than eat them, it became the norm under the Reagan administration to send the Turkey to live elsewhere rather than be devoured.
In 1989, following this traditional, the first official turkey “pardon” was granted by George H.W. Bush, the result of a joke. With animal rights activists standing nearby, the president quipped that “this fine tom turkey…will not end up on anyone’s dinner table, not this guy—he’s granted a Presidential pardon as of right now.” The rest is history. And to see how these famous turkeys live out the rest of their lives, look Inside the Glamorous Lives of Pardoned Turkeys.
The Day After Thanksgiving Is the Busiest Day of the Year For Plumbers
Black Friday isn’t just big business for retailers: plumbers and drain cleaners get in on the action, too. According to Roto-Rooter, the day after Thanksgiving is the busiest day of the year for those who keep water flowing and going. In related news, they also recommend not pouring cooking oil down your drain. And for more ways to keep your food-prep space in A-plus condition this holiday season, here are the 17 Ways You’re Using Your Kitchen All Wrong.
Minnesota Raises The Most Turkeys In The U.S.
Turkeys apparently prefer cold temperatures and friendly neighbors: of all U.S. states, Minnesota raised the most turkeys in 2017, according to the USDA. In fact, the 450 turkey farms in the state raise about 18 percent of all turkeys raised and sold in the United States yearly. While Minnesota has perpetually been in the top of the rankings of domestic turkey producers since record keeping began in 1929, they’ve remained very top spot since North Carolina slowed production in 2003.
Canada Also Celebrates Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is celebrated in Canada, too. Instead of the last Thursday in November, however, it falls on the second Monday of every October. The first to be nationally declared was held in 1872 to celebrate the medical recovery of the Prince of Wales. The prince had been suffering from a fever which had “fill[ed] the minds of all loyal subjects with the deepest anxiety.”
The Macy’s Day Parade Balloons Used To Just Be Let Go After The Show
The first large-scale balloon used in the Macy’s Day Parade was Felix the Cat in 1927, replacing the earlier zoo animals that were used in the first three iterations of the parade. Because there were no plans yet as to deflating the balloons, most were simply allowed to float away afterwards. Unfortunately, this strategy didn’t prove very effective, as most popped shortly after being released.
Demand For The Macy’s Day Parade Is Insane
According to Statista, over 24 million Americans watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2017. Another 3.5 million people, meanwhile, viewed it in person, while another 8,000 participated. And though the parade doesn’t begin until 9 a.m. EST, many viewers arrive as early as 6:30 a.m.—lining the streets of New York—to get a spot along the route.
The Butterball Hotline Answers Thousands of Turkey-Related Questions
Butterball, a popular turkey company, opens a turkey hotline each November and December to answer any turkey-related questions you may have. Since its founding in 1981 the Turkey Talk Line has swelled in popularity from 11,000 questions answered in its first year to over 100,000 in 2017.
Most Americans Prefer The Leftovers To The Meal
According to a Harris Poll, a large majority of Americans (81 percent) prefer the leftovers of the Thanksgiving meal to the meal itself. Another finding: Millennials look forward to the turkey portion of the meal less than any other age group.
Holiday Weight Gain Accounts For Most Of The Thickening Associated With Aging
According to studies, the average person gains one pound between the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Coupled with the fact that most individuals tend to gain one pound a year throughout adulthood, this seasonal thickening may play a large part in the general weight gain that accompanies age. Further studies show that this likely because holiday food is absolutely delicious.
Native Americans Used Cranberries to Make the First Energy Bar
Cranberries were used by Native Americans for much more than sauce. Called ibimi, or “sour fruit” by the Wampanoag tribe, cranberries were put to such diverse uses as tea, tobacco substitute, dye, bait, and, of course, eating. They would also be used in something called pemmican, which is akin to a modern day energy bar—a strip of pounded cranberries, deer meat, and fat fallow which, due to its longevity and nutrients, would be taken on long trips as a good source of protein and fat.
One Sixth of Americans Will Travel More Than 50 Miles On Thanksgiving
According to estimates by AAA, over 50 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more for the holiday this Thanksgiving. The most popular of these destinations—according to booking info—will be Orlando, Florida, closely followed by New York City, and then Anaheim, California.
Thanksgiving Is America’s Second Favorite Holiday
According to another Harris Poll, Thanksgiving is the second favorite holiday among American adults, behind Christmas and ahead of Halloween. While older Americans prefer July 4th to Halloween, preferences for Thanksgiving held across all age categories.
Twice As Many Turkeys Are Eaten On Thanksgiving Than On Christmas
According to the National Turkey Federation, around 44 million turkeys were served at Thanksgiving in the United States in 2017. That’s compared to 22 million pounds at Christmas and 19 million at Easter. The average weight of each, meanwhile, 16 pounds. And to make sure your turkey wasn’t sacrificed in vain, check out The One Way To Cook A Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey.
Before 1997, There Were No Size Regulations On Macy’s Day Parade Balloons
In 1997, the Barney balloon was ripped along its abdomen due to strong winds, while the Pink Panther had to be stabbed by police in order to be stabilized. The worst event occurred, meanwhile, when Cat in the Hat struck a lamppost at 72nd street and “spiraled way down.” In response to 1997’s calamities, organizers of the parade instituted size regulations: “balloons can be no larger than 70 feet high, 78 feet long, and 40 feet wide.”
Thanksgiving Brings More Stress Than Gratefulness
According to Amy Morin, LCSW, and as told to Psychology Today, 71 percent of Americans report feeling stress during the holiday season beginning on Thanksgiving. In addition, three in five respondents reported preferring to do something other than think about what they’re grateful for during thanksgiving, including such activities watching football, reading a book, or playing with a pet. And if you need to make it through the season with your mind intact, steal these 17 Top Tips from Psychologists for Dealing with Holiday Stress.
FDR Once Moved Thanksgiving Up A Week
In the midst of the Great Depression, FDR moved Thanksgiving up one week in order to allow more time for shopping before Christmas. Otherwise, it would have fallen on November 30th. The move spurred intense public reaction—including comparisons to Hitler—though none as memorable as the stunt pulled by Atlantic City’s then-mayor, C.D. White. In a public statement issued the day before the new Thanksgiving day designated by FDR, White announced that his city would celebrate two days of thanks: one on the traditional day of Thanksgiving, and another the following day—in honor of the president—which would be known as “Franksgiving.” And for more holiday shopping surprises, check out the 17 Dirty Secrets Retailers Don’t Want You to Know About Black Friday.
Thomas Jefferson Refused To Celebrate Thanksgiving Publicly
In 1801, Thomas Jefferson became the first president to oppose commemorating “thanksgivings” in a national decree. At the time, he wrote a letter to the Danbury Baptists defending his decision by explaining that although he didn’t oppose celebrating the holiday—he did so himself—he felt that a national holiday would bridge the separation of Church and State. Started by Washington, national celebration of the holiday then remained dormant for over half a century, until President Lincoln’s revival in the midst of the Civil War.
The Woman Who Got Thanksgiving Reinstated Also Wrote “Mary Had A Little Lamb”
Sarah Hale is known as the “Mother of Thanksgiving.” Her four decades of campaigning for a day of thanks are credited with persuading President Lincoln to reinstate the national holiday in 1864. In addition, Hale was also a successful editor and poet, penning the famous “Mary Had A Little Lamb” and retiring at the ripe age of 89.
”Jingle Bells” Was Originally A Thanksgiving Song
“Jingle Bells,” the classic Christmas song written by James Lord Pierpont in 1857, wasn’t originally about Christmas. First entitled “One Horse Open Sleigh,” the ditty was meant to be sung on Thanksgiving. When it was reprinted in 1859, however, the name was changed to “Jingle Bells, or the One Horse Open Sleigh,” and was prescribed for Christmas.
The Original “TV Dinner” Was The Result of a Thanksgiving Miscalculation
The original TV dinner was the result of a Thanksgiving miscalculation. In 1953, an executive at Swanson miscalculated the company’s upcoming Thanksgiving turkey sales, leaving the company with some 260 tons of frozen fowl following the holiday. Fortunately for Swanson, a salesman by the name of Gerry Thomas suggested packaging the excess product into trays—along with some traditional sides—and selling them to consumers as “TV Dinners.” Thomas was apparently inspired by the pre-portioned trays used to serve airplane food.
Giving Back Makes Families Closer And Happier
Thanksgiving is, for many, a time not only to be thankful but to give back: witness the countless examples of individuals donating their time to serve or cook Thanksgiving meals in need. Did you know, however, that a strong tradition of giving back—as cemented on holidays like Thanksgiving—can set your family up for a lifetime of happiness? According to a poll conducted by Fidelity Charitable, 48 percent who grew up “with strong giving traditions” considered themselves “a very happy person.” It also helps keep family together: 81 percent of those with strong giving traditions reported their core family as being “very close.” And to find out how you can give back, check out these 33 Charitable Opportunities to Participate in This Holiday Season.
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