Thanksgiving traditionally revolves around family and favorite Thanksgiving recipes — things like turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie — it’s important to remember how the holiday actually started, as well as the exciting ways we celebrate it today.. And while we’re all excited to dig into our
From which president tried to cancel Thanksgiving to how many calories the average American eats on the holiday, these Thanksgiving facts work perfectly as no-fuss conversation starters that won’t launch arguments as you pass the peas. Not to mention, your guests will be totally impressed with all your Thanksgiving trivia knowledge. And if you need even more ways to break the ice, try sharing one of these hilarious Thanksgiving jokes or playing one of these fun Thanksgiving games.
Don’t forget to check out GoodHousekeeping.com’s Thanksgiving 2019 guide.
1. The first Thanksgiving was actually a three-day celebration.
Today, Thanksgiving takes place on one day — maybe two if you count Black Friday. But that wasn’t enough for the original Pilgrims. In November 1621, the settlers’ first corn harvest proved successful and Governor William Bradford invited the Plymouth colonists’ Native American allies to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Members of the Wampanoag tribe came bearing food to share and as they joined the Pilgrims, the revelers decided to extend the affair.
2. It’s unclear if colonists and Native Americans ate turkey at their feast.
Nobody is quite sure if the almighty bird that now marks the centerpiece of our table was even on the menu back in 1621. However, they did indulge in other interesting foods like lobster, seal, and swan. The Wampanoag even brought five deer to the feast, so if you also enjoy venison at your autumn table, consider yourselves right in line with a longstanding tradition.
3. Today, a part of Plymouth, Massachusetts, looks just as it did in the 17th century.
Modeled after an English village and a Wampanoag home site, the historic attraction Plymouth Plantation stays true to its historic roots. And if you want to go way back to the original Thanksgiving table, you can. Guests can order tickets as early as June (May for members) to attend a Thanksgiving dinner complete with authentic courses like a corn pudding and fish fricassee, tales of colonial life, and centuries-old songs. Don’t be too shy to join in the sing-along!
4. While president, Thomas Jefferson refused to declare Thanksgiving as a holiday.
Presidents originally had to declare Thanksgiving a holiday every year. However, Jefferson refused to recognize the event, because he strongly believed in the separation of church and state. Since Thanksgiving involved prayer and reflection, the president thought making it a national holiday would violate the First Amendment. He also thought it was better suited as a state holiday, not a federal one. But he never really explained himself to the public.
5. The woman behind “Mary Had a Little Lamb” is also responsible for Thanksgiving’s recognition as a national holiday.
Writer and editor Sarah Josepha Hale convinced President Abraham Lincoln to officially declare Thanksgiving a national holiday that recurred every year after years of persistent lobbying. The author also founded the American Ladies Magazine, which promoted women’s issues long before suffrage. She wrote countless articles and letters to persuade the president to recognize the holiday federally, which she believed could help unify the Northern and Southern states amid gathering tensions and divisions. Hale kept at it, even after the Civil War broke out, and Lincoln actually wrote the proclamation just a week after her last letter in 1863.
6. The first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade didn’t feature any balloons.
If you can’t imagine the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade without giant floats featuring your favorite characters, you’d probably barely recognize the first parade in the early 1920s. It did have puppets riding the floats, as well as singers and celebrities and of course, Santa Claus. And when the Thanksgiving parade made its big debut in 1924, it did have something that might be even crazier than balloons: animals from the Central Park Zoo.
7. But we have a Good Housekeeping illustrator to thank for the parade’s first balloons.
German American illustrator Tony Starg, who completed illustrations for Good Housekeeping, also had a passion for puppetry, which he used make the amazing floats come to life in 1927.
How cool is that?
8. In 1939, Thanksgiving was celebrated on the third Thursday in November — not the fourth.
You might think President Roosevelt could predict the future, as he channeled a “Black Friday” mindset when he decided when to celebrate Thanksgiving during his presidency. Even though the holiday had been celebrated on the fourth Thursday since Lincoln officially recognized the federal holiday decades before, Roosevelt bumped it up a week. That effectively added seven more shopping days to the holiday season, but it also angered football coaches who had Thanksgiving games scheduled that became regular weekday games and calendar-printers who now had incorrect dates. Americans, to say the least, didn’t love the change, so it was officially (and legally) switched back in 1942.
9. A Thanksgiving mix-up inspired the first TV dinners.
In 1953, a Swanson employee accidentally ordered a colossal shipment of Thanksgiving turkeys (260 tons, to be exact). To get rid of them all, salesman Gerry Thomas took inspiration from the prepared foods served on airplanes. He came up with the idea of filling 5,000 aluminum trays with the turkey – along with cornbread dressing, gravy, peas, and sweet potatoes to round out the meal. The 98-cents meals were a hit, especially with kids and increasingly busy households.
Within one year, over 10 million were sold and a whole industry was born.
10. About 46 million turkeys are cooked for Thanksgiving each year.
Thanksgiving without turkey would be like Christmas without a tree, and most American families consider it equally blasphemous. While not super popular the rest of the year, turkey is a huge hit for holidays, perhaps because it really serves a crowd. On Christmas, 22 million families host an encore with yet another turkey.
Turns out, the bird really is the word.
11. But not everyone eats turkey on Thanksgiving.
According to the National Turkey Federation, only 88% of Americans chow down on turkey. The rest may be vegetarian or vegan, or just taking a stand against a protein that, let’s face it, doesn’t show up much the rest of the year.
Which begs the question, what interesting dishes are the other 12% cooking up?
12. You might consume up to 229 grams fat during the big meal.
You might want to put on those stretchy pants before heading to Thanksgiving dinner (as if you needed a warning!) We hate to be the bearers of bad news, but that’s about three to four times the amount of fat you should eat in a day. And this is probably not news to those of us who go for second or third helpings of the big meal, but the entire Thanksgiving dinner could total over 3,000 calories. Now, who’s up for tossing around a pigskin after we eat?
13. America’s first turkey trot took place more than a century ago.
The race, which was hosted by the local YMCA in Buffalo, New York, included just six runners — although only four of them made it to the finish line. One runner dropped out when his “late breakfast refused to keep in its proper place” and another simply excused himself after two miles. Today, turkey trots are a much bigger deal. In 2018, more than one million people were expected to finish a Thanksgiving-themed race, and around 1,000 turkey trots took place around the country.
14. Runners at a Dallas turkey trot set a world record by dressing up as turkeys.
Not only are turkey trots a fun Thanksgiving tradition, but many of them also offer runners the unique opportunity to dress like a turkey. On Thanksgiving Day in 2011, runners at the YMCA Turkey Trot in Dallas, Texas, dressed up in droves and set a Guinness World Record for the largest gathering of people dressed as turkeys. In total, 661 people came wearing their feathered finest.
15. The turkeys pardoned by the President go on to do some pretty cool things.
President George H.W. Bush pardoned the first turkey in 1989 after he noticed the 50-pound bird at his official Thanksgiving proclamation looked a little antsy. Every president has upheld the tradition to this day. But what happens to that lucky bird that gets to squawk another day? In 2005 and 2009, the turkeys went to Disneyland and Walt Disney World parks to serve as grand marshal in their annual Thanksgiving parades.
And from 2010 to 2013, they vacationed at Washington’s Mount Vernon state.
16. Only male turkeys actually gobble.
If you learned in preschool that a turkey goes “gobble, gobble,” that’s only about half true. Only male turkeys — appropriately named gobblers — actually make the sound. Female turkeys cackle instead. So if you’re trying to figure out whether a turkey’s a male or a female, just wait until they open their beaks.
17. Turkeys are (kind of) named after the country.
No, that doesn’t mean turkey is from Turkey. During the time of the Ottoman Empire, a bird called the guinea fowl — which bears a striking resemblance to the American turkey — was imported to Europe from its native North Africa. Because the birds came from Turkish lands, Europeans called them turkey-cock and turkey-hen. When settlers in the Americas began sending similar-looking birds back to Europe, they called them turkeys out of familiarity.
18. Most Americans like Thanksgiving leftovers more than the actual meal.
Fans of the almighty turkey, stuffing, and mashed potato leftover sandwich: You’re in the majority. Almost eight in 10 Americans agree that the second helpings of stuffing, mashed potatoes, and of course pie beat out the big dinner itself, according to a 2015 Harris Poll.
Many people will craft creative leftover concoctions out of what doesn’t get consumed during the feast, or just head back for a whole second act.
19. The Butterball Turkey Talk Line answers almost 100,000 calls each season.
So many people roast a big bird just once a year, and understandably need a little help. In 2016, the company’s popular cooking crisis management team also introduced a 24-hour text message line for the lead-up into the big day. So if you’re wondering why the turkey isn’t turning out quite the way you want it, fear not. Help is just a call or a text message away.
20. Canada also celebrates Thanksgiving — but on a different day.
Our neighbors to the north also celebrate Thanksgiving, but they do so on a different day and for a different reason. While American Thanksgiving pays homage to a feast between the pilgrims and the Native Americans, the Canadian celebration commemorates a feast between English explorer Martin Frobisher and his crew after their successful sail from England to the Canadian territory in 1578. Canadian Thanksgiving falls on a different date, too, and takes place on the second Monday of October every year.
However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any similarities between the two holidays. Both American and Canadian Thanksgiving dinners often feature turkey, and revelers in both countries frequently spend the day watching football marathons and parades (in Canada, the biggest one is the Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest Thanksgiving Day Parade).
21. There are four places in the country named Turkey.
Diehard Thanksgiving fans can actually move to a town named after the foods of their favorite holiday. The U.S. Census has identified another four called Cranberry, and a grand total of 34 dubbed Plymouth. We bet they take their celebrations very seriously.
22. An estimated 50 million pumpkin pies are eaten on Thanksgiving.
If you’d rather leave your pumpkins at Halloween and dig into another Thanksgiving dessert, you’re not alone. According to The American Pie Council, more Americans prefer apple pie overall — pumpkin pie only comes in second place.
Good thing many Thanksgiving spreads feature a few different pies so you can have your pick.
23. Black Friday is the busiest day of the year for plumbers.
Thanks to all that food we gobble up on Thanksgiving and houseguests stressing out the plumbing system, Roto-Rooter reports that kitchen drains, garbage disposals, and yes, toilets, require more attention the day after Thanksgiving than any other day of the year. You might want to reminder your well-meaning kitchen helpers not to stuff food down the drain, to save yourself an expensive plumbing bill.
24. Over 32 million people begin Black Friday shopping on Thanksgiving.
Even though many consumers think stores shouldn’t be open on Thanksgiving, a good chunk of us still plan to shop on the holiday, according to the National Retail Federation. But not everyone heads to the mall before their turkey can settle.
Black Friday still draws the biggest crowd of the entire weekend, with 115 million people. A total of 69 percent of Americans love to get those deals, which may explain why we can’t find a parking spot.
25. Thanksgiving’s history isn’t all sunny.
As you tuck into your turkey and stuffing, spare a moment to remember that Thanksgiving didn’t come about entirely peacefully. After the pilgrims arrived, years of conflict took place between European settlers and the Wampanoag people, which resulted in the deaths of millions of native people. The only reason the pilgrims could even settle in Plymouth was because the Wampanoag people had been devastated by disease, virtually wiped out by a plague European settlers had brought years before.
Since 1970, people have gathered on the last Thursday in November at the top of Cole’s Hill, which overlooks Plymouth Rock, to commemorate a “National Day of Mourning.” Similar events take place in other parts of the country to remember that, while European settlers escaped persecution in their own country, their arrival also heralded unspeakable loss for native people which still continues today.
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