Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday celebrated in Canada and the United States. It was originally celebrated as a day of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year. Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday of October in Canada and on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States. Several other places around the world observe similar celebrations. Although Thanksgiving has historical roots in religious and cultural traditions, it has long been celebrated in a secular manner as well.
Discover more facts about it, here!
1. Prayers of thanks and special thanksgiving ceremonies are common among almost all religions after harvests and at other times.
2. The Thanksgiving holiday’s history in North America is rooted in English traditions dating from the Protestant Reformation.
3. It also has aspects of a harvest festival, even though the harvest in New England occurs well before the late-November date on which the modern Thanksgiving holiday is celebrated.
4. In the English tradition, days of thanksgiving and special thanksgiving religious services became important during the English Reformation in the reign of Henry VIII and in reaction to the large number of religious holidays on the Catholic calendar.
5. Before 1536 there were 95 Church holidays, plus 52 Sundays, when people were required to attend church and forego work and sometimes pay for expensive celebrations.
6. The 1536 reforms reduced the number of Church holidays to 27, but some Puritans wished to completely eliminate all Church holidays, including Christmas and Easter.
7. The holidays were to be replaced by specially called Days of Fasting or Days of Thanksgiving, in response to events that the Puritans viewed as acts of special providence. Unexpected disasters or threats of judgement from on high called for Days of Fasting.
8. Special blessings, viewed as coming from God, called for Days of Thanksgiving. For example, Days of Fasting were called on account of drought in 1611, floods in 1613, and plagues in 1604 and 1622. Days of Thanksgiving were called following the victory over the Spanish Armada in 1588 and following the deliverance of Queen Anne in 1705.
9. An unusual annual Day of Thanksgiving began in 1606 following the failure of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 and developed into Guy Fawkes Day.
10. While some researchers state that “there is no compelling narrative of the origins of the Canadian Thanksgiving day”,the first Canadian Thanksgiving is often traced back to 1578 and the explorer Martin Frobisher.
11. Frobisher, who had been trying to find a northern passage to the Pacific Ocean, held his Thanksgiving celebration not for harvest but in thanks for surviving the long journey from England through the perils of storms and icebergs.
12. On his third and final voyage to the far north, Frobisher held a formal ceremony in Frobisher Bay in Baffin Island (present-day Nunavut) to give thanks to God and in a service ministered by the preacher Robert Wolfall they celebrated Communion.
13. The origins of Canadian Thanksgiving are also sometimes traced to the French settlers who came to New France with explorer Samuel de Champlain in the early 17th century, who celebrated their successful harvests. The French settlers in the area typically had feasts at the end of the harvest season and continued throughout the winter season, even sharing food with the indigenous peoples of the area.
14. As settlers arrived in Canada from New England, late autumn Thanksgiving celebrations became commonplace. New immigrants into the country—such as the Irish, Scottish, and Germans—also added their own traditions to the harvest celebrations.
15. Most of the US aspects of Thanksgiving (such as the turkey), were incorporated when United Empire Loyalists began to flee from the United States during the American Revolution and settled in Canada.
16. Thanksgiving is now a statutory holiday in most jurisdictions of Canada, with the exception of the Atlantic provinces of Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.
17. In the United States, the modern Thanksgiving holiday tradition is commonly, but not universally, traced to a sparsely documented 1621 celebration at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts.
18. The 1621 Plymouth feast and thanksgiving was prompted by a good harvest. Pilgrims and Puritans who began emigrating from England in the 1620s and 1630s carried the tradition of Days of Fasting and Days of Thanksgiving with them to New England.
19. Several days of Thanksgiving were held in early New England history that have been identified as the “First Thanksgiving”, including Pilgrim holidays in Plymouth in 1621 and 1623, and a Puritan holiday in Boston in 1631.
20. According to historian Jeremy Bangs, director of the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum, the Pilgrims may have been influenced by watching the annual services of Thanksgiving for the relief of the siege of Leiden in 1574, while they were staying in Leiden.
21. Now called Oktober Feesten, Leiden’s autumn thanksgiving celebration in 1617 was the occasion for sectarian disturbance that appears to have accelerated the pilgrims’ plans to emigrate to America.
22. Later in Massachusetts, religious thanksgiving services were declared by civil leaders such as Governor Bradford, who planned the colony’s thanksgiving celebration and fast in 1623.
23. The practice of holding an annual harvest festival did not become a regular affair in New England until the late 1660s.
24. Thanksgiving proclamations were made mostly by church leaders in New England up until 1682, and then by both state and church leaders until after the American Revolution.
25. During the revolutionary period, political influences affected the issuance of Thanksgiving proclamations. Various proclamations were made by royal governors, John Hancock, General George Washington, and the Continental Congress,each giving thanks to God for events favorable to their causes.
26. As President of the United States, George Washington proclaimed the first nationwide thanksgiving celebration in America marking November 26, 1789, “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God”.
27. In modern times the President of the United States, in addition to issuing a proclamation, will “pardon” a turkey, which spares the bird’s life and ensures that it will spend the duration of its life roaming freely on farmland.
28. 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.
29. 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.
30. No turkey on the menu at the first Thanksgiving: 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.
31. They probably ate pumpkins, but no pumpkin pies. They also didn’t eat mashed potatoes or cranberry relish, but they probably ate cranberries. And no, Turduckens (a turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken) were nowhere to be found during that first Thanksgiving.
32. According to the National Turkey Federation, 88 percent of Americans have turkey on Thanksgiving. So if our math is correct, that leaves 12 percent of people who don’t eat turkey on the holiday.
33. It’s hard to imagine the turkey as the official bird of the United States, but if Ben Franklin had had his way, it could have been. In a letter to his daughter, Franklin referred to the turkey saying, “I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country! The turkey is a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America.”
34. No forks 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.
35. Thanksgiving is the reason for TV dinners! In 1953, Swanson had so much extra turkey (260 tons) 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.
36. 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.
37. Why is Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November? 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.
38. 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.
39. Turkey isn’t responsible for drowsiness or the dreaded “food coma.” So what isolated footballis? Scientists say that extra glass of wine, the high-calorie meal or relaxing after a busy work schedule is what makes you drowsy.
40. How did the tradition of watching football on Thanksgiving start? The NFL started the Thanksgiving Classic games in 1920 and since then the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys have hosted games on Turkey Day. In 2006, a third game was added with different teams hosting.
41. Wild turkeys can run 20 miles per hour when they are scared, but domesticated turkeys that are bred are heavier and can’t run quite that fast.