30 Things You May or May Not Know About Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving WreathEach year Americans celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November. Families gather around the dinner table for a feast of turkey, dressing (or stuffing depending upon where you reside), mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and more.

The first Thanksgiving was far different from how we celebrate today. Here are thirty things you may or may not know about Thanksgiving.

1) The Pilgrims celebrated their first harvest in the New World in 1621. It lasted three days with 53 pilgrims and 90 Wampanoag Native Americans in attendance. This is what most Americans refer to as the first Thanksgiving.

2) Thanksgiving services were routine in the Commonwealth of Virginia as early as 1607.

3) The Massachusetts Bay Colony first celebrated Thanksgiving in 1630.

4) The first documented thanksgiving services in territory currently belonging to the United States were conducted by Spaniards in the 16th century.

5) The Continental Congress gave the first national proclamation of Thanksgiving in 1777.

6) George Washington proclaimed a Thanksgiving in December 1777 as a victory celebration honoring the defeat of the British at Saratoga.

7) Thanksgiving became an official holiday in 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise…” The holiday was to be observed the final Thursday of November.

8) Sarah Josepha Hale, an American writer, may be the individual most responsible for having Thanksgiving named as a national holiday. Her other claim to fame? She is the author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

9) Thanksgiving traditions varied in America during the second half of the nineteenth century with many New England celebrations including a raffle on Thanksgiving Eve and a shooting match on Thanksgiving morning.

10) In 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt broke the tradition passed down from all presidents since Lincoln when he declared the fourth Thursday of Thanksgiving as the holiday in order to give retailers a longer Christmas shopping season (November 1939 had five Thursdays). This, as you may have guessed, set off a debate between Democrats and Republicans.

11) Twenty-three states went along with Roosevelt’s recommendation in 1939, twenty-two did not, and some (Texas included) took both Thursdays as a holiday. (I like that idea!)

12) In 1941, Congress and the senate passed a bill declaring the fourth Thursday of November as the federal holiday. President Roosevelt signed it into law.

13) Since 1947, the National Turkey Foundation has presented each US President with a turkey. Although there is some dispute as to which president was the first to “pardon” the turkey, President Kennedy was the first to give the turkey a reprieve when he said, “Let’s keep him going.” President George H. W. Bush, with animal rights activists protesting nearby said, “‘Reprieve’, ‘keep him going, or ‘pardon:’ its all the same for the turkey, as long as he doesn’t end up on the president’s holiday table.” The tradition of a presidential pardon for the turkey continues today.

14) The earliest date for Thanksgiving is November 22, the latest is November 28.

15) The thanksgiving holiday is one of the busiest travel periods of the year.

16) The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade has been held since 1924.

17) America’s Thanksgiving Parade, held in Detroit, is one of the largest parades in the country.

18) The Detroit Lions have hosted a Thanksgiving football game since 1934 (with the exception of 1939-1944 due to World War II). The Dallas Cowboys began hosting a Thanksgiving Day game in 1966.

19) Many college football teams end their regular season over Thanksgiving weekend with rival teams competing. The list includes Alabama/Auburn, Washington/Washington State, Michigan and Ohio State and up until Texas A&M defected to the SEC, they faced the Texas Longhorns each year on Thanksgiving weekend.

20) The top turkey producing state in the US, according to the census bureau, is Minnesota.

21) The Guinness Book of World Records lists the largest pumpkin pie ever baked as weighing 2,020 pounds. It measured just over 12 feet long. The New Bremen Giant Pumpkin Growers in Ohio baked the pie on October 8, 2005. It included 900 pounds of pumpkin, 62 gallons of evaporated milk, 155 dozen eggs, 300 pounds of sugar, 3.5 pounds of salt, 7 pounds of cinnamon, 2 pounds of pumpkin spice and 250 pounds of crust.

22) Four towns in the U.S. take their name from the traditional Thanksgiving bird, including Turkey, Texas; Turkey Creek, Louisiana; Turkey, North Carolina; and Turkey Creek, Arizona.

23) Had it been left to Benjamin Franklin, the turkey would be our national bird instead of the eagle. (Thank goodness he didn’t get his way!)

24) In 1953, (according to the census bureau) the Swanson Company overestimated the number of frozen turkeys that would be sold at Thanksgiving, which resulted in more than a half-million pounds of unsold birds. A salesman came up with the idea of slicing the meat, repackaging with trimmings, and the first TV dinner was born.

25) Contrary to our modern Thanksgiving dinner, the first Thanksgiving feast likely consisted of venison, various types of fowl, corn, cod, bass, and other types of fish.

26) When the US Air Force first conducted test runs and broke the sound barrier, nearby turkeys dropped dead with heart attacks.

27) The heaviest turkey ever raised was 86 pounds. (That’s heavier than my shepherd-mix dog!)

28) Turkeys have about 3500 feathers at maturity.

29) Many people blame their Thanksgiving afternoon drowsiness on Tryptophan, an essential amino acid found in turkeys. The truth is the drowsiness is caused by a large consumption of carbohydrates.

30) Black Friday is the traditional start of the Christmas shopping season. Many retailers now open their stores on the evening of Thanksgiving in order  to accommodate the hordes of crazy people (Ahem, shoppers). In recent years, online shopping on Cyber Monday has gained in popularity.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone and enjoy your nap!

  • kathunsworth

    Joan thanks you have educated this Aussie gal and it seems like a nice tradition to gather family and celebrate all that you have and be grateful.

    • Kath – I’m glad you enjoyed reading this. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I learned a lot when researching this story – things I didn’t know either!