Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday celebrated in Canada, the United States, some of the Caribbean islands, and Liberia. It began as a day of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year. Similarly named festival holidays occur in Germany and Japan. Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday of October in Canada and on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States, and around the same part of the year in other places. Although Thanksgiving has historical roots in religious and cultural traditions, it has long been celebrated as a secular holiday as well.
1. If Ben Franklin had his way, the turkey would be America’s national bird. An eagle, he wrote in a letter to his daughter, had “bad moral character.” A turkey, on the other hand, was a “much more respectable bird.”
2. There are four places in the United States named Turkey. Louisiana’s Turkey Creek is the most populous, with a whopping 435 residents. There’s also Turkey, Texas; Turkey, North Carolina; and Turkey Creek, Arizona. Oh, let’s not forget the two townships in Pennsylvania: the creatively named Upper Turkeyfoot and Lower Turkeyfoot!
3. President Abe Lincoln said Thanksgiving would be the fourth Thursday in November, but in 1939 President Roosevelt moved it up a week hoping it would help the shopping season during the Depression era. It never caught on and it was changed back two years later.
4. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade began in 1924 with 400 employees marching from Convent Ave to 145th street in New York City. No large balloons were at this parade, as it featured only live animals from Central Park Zoo.
5. Turkey isn’t responsible for drowsiness or the dreaded “food coma.” Scientists say that extra glass of wine, the high-calorie meal or relaxing after a busy work schedule is what makes you drowsy!
6. The first Thanksgiving was held in the autumn of 1621 and included 50 Pilgrims and 90 Wampanoag Indians and lasted three days. Many historians believe that only five women were present at that first Thanksgiving, as many women settlers didn’t survive that difficult first year in the U.S.
7. Thanksgiving didn’t become a national holiday until over 200 years later! Sarah Josepha Hale, the woman who actually wrote the classic song “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” convinced President Lincoln in 1863 to make Thanksgiving a national holiday, after writing letters for 17 years campaigning for this to happen.
8. Historians say that no turkey was served at the first Thanksgiving! What was on the menu? Deer or venison, ducks, geese, oysters, lobster, eel and fish. They probably ate pumpkins, but no pumpkin pies. They also didn’t eat mashed potatoes or cranberry relish, but they probably ate cranberries.
9. And no, Turduckens (a turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken) were nowhere to be found during that first Thanksgiving.
10. There were no eating utensils at the first Thanksgiving! The first Thanksgiving was eaten with spoons and knives — but no forks! That’s right, forks weren’t even introduced to the Pilgrims until 10 years later and weren’t a popular utensil until the 18th century.
11. Thanksgiving is the reason for TV dinners! In 1953, Swanson had so much extra turkey, 260 tons to be exact, that a salesman told them they should package it onto aluminum trays with other sides like sweet potatoes and the first TV dinner was born!
12. Thanksgiving was almost a fast not a feast! The early settlers gave thanks by praying and abstaining from food, which is what they planned on doing to celebrate their first harvest, that is, until the Wampanoag Indians joined them and (lucky for us!) turned their fast into a three-day feast!
13. Presidential pardon of a turkey: Each year, the president of the U.S pardons a turkey and spares it from being eaten for Thanksgiving dinner. The first turkey pardon ceremony started with President Truman in 1947. President Obama pardoned a 45-pound turkey named Courage, who has flown to Disneyland and served as Grand Marshal of the park’s Thanksgiving Day parade!
14. Thanksgiving is not just an American holiday. Canadians celebrate it too. Except they do it the second Monday in October.
15. 46 million turkeys are eaten each Thanksgiving, 22 million on Christmas and 19 million turkeys on Easter.