This week brings the annual day of wholesale turkey slaughter that millions of unsympathetic Americans (us included) have grown accustomed to. And, if you’re like us, you can’t wait to dig in to yet another Thanksgiving feast. The holiday, which has come every fourth Thursday in November since the early 1940s, is a precursor to the even bigger Christmas season. But unless you’ve been living under Plymouth Rock the last few centuries, you probably already knew that.
What you might not have known, however, are some of the facts we were able to dig up here for your holiday amusement. So crank open the cranberry sauce, splat another helping of mashed taters on the plate, and focus on the season’s major decisions, such as baked turkey or fried—it’s time to enjoy some crazy Thanksgiving facts!
Provincetown, Preaching, and Thanksgiving
The pilgrims at Plymouth are often mistakenly thought to have landed at Plymouth Rock, but the reality is that the crew of the Mayflower couldn’t wait that long to get rid of their evangelical brethren. The actual story of the Plymouth Rock landing wasn’t known in its current form until about 100 years after the fact. By then, it was easier just to say they landed at Plymouth Rock since that’s where the pilgrims did, in fact, end up. The actual drop-off point where the Mayflower crew rid themselves of the pilgrims was at the edge of the Cape Cod Peninsula at a place called Provincetown, now a popular gay tourist destination.
Early pilgrims in period regalia.
First Thanksgiving: Texas or Virginia?
While many of us are under the impression the first Thanksgiving meal took place between English settlers and Native Americans in the Plymouth region, history seems to indicate two earlier events as being the actual origin of the holiday. Virginians have claimed that they were the first to celebrate Thanksgiving when travelers aboard the Margaret celebrated with a feast as a means of showing thanks for their safe arrival in the New World. The event was ordered by the London-based sponsor of the voyage. Thirty eight English settlers took part in the feast, which occurred on Dec. 4, 1619, nearly two full years ahead of the Plymouth event. Since 1958, citizens reenact the event that took place at the Berkeley Plantation along the James River. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy recognized the event.
But going back even further, Thanksgiving historians will find an event in Texas that may deserve the nod. Reportedly, the first Thanksgiving took place in a small community near El Paso called San Elizario circa 1598. Spanish explorer Juan de Onate led a rugged and dangerous journey across 350 miles of Mexican desert. Hundreds made the journey with him, and it culminated in a feast that has been reenacted for many years.
Thanksgiving and Thomas Jefferson
Since Turkey Day has been a longstanding tradition among America and its presidents, one would think that our nation’s leaders have been on board with the idea from the very beginning. Any possible opposition would not likely come from our forefathers. That’s at least what many patriotic Americans would have you believe.
But if there’s one thing that listening to our forefathers can teach us, it’s that it’s okay to hate the holiday. It doesn’t make you un-American. In fact, President Thomas Jefferson once called a national day of Thanksgiving, which was endorsed by George Washington in 1789, “the most ridiculous idea” he’d ever heard of. He also thought women’s suffrage was “an innovation for which the public is not prepared, nor am I.” In addition to this, he kept slaves and allegedly fathered a child with one of them, so he may not be the best forefather to ask for advice.
Not a fan of turkey day.
Jingle Bells and Turkey Day
“Jingle Bells,” one of the most beloved (or overplayed depending on your viewpoint) Christmas songs of all time is not a Christmas song at all. Or at least it wasn’t in the beginning. James Pierpoint, the composer and author of the annoyingly catchy little number, created it for the children in his Sunday school class at a Boston church. The song was so popular it was reprised at Christmas. More than 150 years later, we’re still playing it to usher in the time devoted to Santa, Christ, and holiday shopping, and if you think about it, it really does make more sense in its current position.
The Detroit Lions played the first Thanksgiving Day NFL game in 1934, but that was not the first football game ever played on Thanksgiving. That honor would go to the newly formed American Intercollegiate Football Association in 1876, according to Time magazine. In fact, more than 5,000 other clubs would get in on the action before the Lions played their first game against the Chicago Bears. Since then, the Lions have missed only one Thanksgiving thanks to the World War II draft in which the entire team was called up to do battle against Hitler’s bunch from Nazi Germany. That was also the last significant victory that a Detroit Lions player ever contributed to.
These hats kill fascists.
As for professional football itself, the Lions can’t take all the credit. President Woodrow Wilson recommended the professional ranks of 1920 engage in gridiron combat so people would have something to do after consuming all that turkey and dressing. That day saw victories for the All-Tonawanda (N.Y.) team, who defeated the Rochester Jeffersons 14-3; the Chicago Boosters, who blanked the Hammond Pros 27-0; the Dayton Triangles, who beat up on the Detroit Heralds 28-0; the Decatur Staleys, who edged the Chicago Tigers 6-0; and the Akron Pros, who defeated the Canton Bulldogs 7-0. The Elyria (Ohio) Athletics also played the Columbus Panhandles to a 0-0 tie.
Gimbel’s Not Macy’s
No one is taking anything away from Macy’s. The department store clearly owns the Thanksgiving Day Parade market, and they have since 1924. But few realize that Macy’s was not the originator of the Thanksgiving Day Parade. That honor goes to Ellis Gimbel, who hosted the Gimbel’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to promote his department store and build sales heading into the holiday shopping season. The first Gimbel’s parade occurred in 1920, which coincidentally was the same year pro football seeped into our collective Turkey Day consciousness. More than 50 Gimbel’s Department Store employees dressed up and hit the streets to celebrate Thanksgiving that year. The parade culminated with the arrival of Old St. Nick. For the Thanksgiving purists among you, take heart. The Gimbels Parade still exists in its current form, the 6abc IKEA Thanksgiving Day Parade, aired every year from Philadelphia, Pa., on WPVI-TV.
Franksgiving was a temporary holiday spawned off from FDR’s movement of the holiday from the fourth to the third Thursday of November from 1939-1941. We touched on part of this story in our 2009 entry “32 Bizarre and Interesting Facts about Thanksgiving.” What we didn’t tell you is that in response to President Roosevelt’s bold and well-meaning move, the mayor of Atlantic City decided to deal with public outcry by adopting a “more the merrier” attitude.
The result was Franksgiving, Mayor Thomas Taggart’s name for the bastardized version of FDR’s Thanksgiving holiday. The public support was largely on Taggart’s side to go ahead and celebrate the “real” Thanksgiving in its usual slot on the calendar. At the time, 52% of Democrats supported FDR’s move while only 21% of Republicans did, showing that even in those days, the two parties didn’t get along too much. In fact, the Merrie Melodies cartoon “Holiday Highlights” even made fun of the warring factions by declaring two Thanksgiving dates on the calendar: one for the donkeys and the other for the elephants.
Surprisingly little has changed since.
Holiday Inn starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire also made light of the situation with an animated overlay sequence in the film where a confused turkey roams back and forth from one calendar square to the next before giving up with a shrug of the shoulders to the audience. We’re not sure what you all think about this, but it may be time to break out the brats and weenie dogs and reinstitute Franksgiving for next year. What do you say?
Westminster Abbey 1942
In 1942, tensions were high as World War II raged on. For more than 3,500 American troops stationed in England, it didn’t seem like there would be a Thanksgiving to celebrate. But that’s when London’s Westminster Abbey stepped in and invited the number to celebrate the holiday inside the church. American troops crowded into the facility and belted out “America, the Beautiful” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” less than 200 years after pilgrims fled from Britain in protest of religious oppression. It was also around late 1942 and early 1943 that WWII momentum started to swing in the Allies favor.
Black Friday is not the busiest shopping day of the retail season. We know, judging from the yearly fistfights over toys and dresses and TV sets, you’re probably thinking “how could that be?” We were, too. But apparently the desire to last-minute shop for holiday presents on the Saturday before Christmas has the retail event beaten when it comes to overall sales. We’re not sure, but it’s likely this is thanks to desperate men trying to stay away from that Dec. 25 lump of coal from the wife and kids. So, ladies, the next time your husband complains about you getting up at 2:30 in the morning to go camp out in line outside of your local Target, remind him of this small fact.
Silence of the Lambs Turkeys
Sure, the President comes out and pardons a turkey every year around this time. It’s a tradition that is as old, some say, as Abraham Lincoln’s presidency. The slave-emancipating 16th of our great country is rumored to have been the first fowl pardoner. The event supposedly came as a favor to his son Tad, who had a pet turkey he didn’t feel right about eating. The first public pardoning, however, came from the guy, who dropped two atomic bombs on Japan. President Harry Truman launched the event as we know it today in 1947, saving the life of one lucky turkey. However, each year 46 million of these birds aren’t so lucky. One additional note: George H.W. Bush in 1989 was the first President to issue an official pardon for a turkey. The practice, however, clearly existed long before this action.
Alternatives to Turkey
While you may think of it as a travesty to ever enter into the fourth Thursday of November with any food but turkey on the brain, more people are avoiding the holiday tradition for a variety of innovations. One of the most popular includes turduckens, or “turds” for short. (On second thought, we’ll stick with the long form.)
A scrumptious serving of turds. (Photo by Christopher Corkum).
Turduckens are turkeys stuffed with duck and chicken. Areas where these poultry creations are particularly popular include Louisiana, Wyoming, and South Carolina. In fact, Cajun Country claims to send out more than 5,000 turduckens in the week leading up to Thanksgiving each year. Other alternatives you might consider: tofurkey (tofu turkey, un-American), deep-fried turkey (recommended), or the first Thanksgiving meal (fish, lobster, eels and oysters). And you know what they say about oysters…
Green Bean Casserole Day
That’s right, Thanksgiving lovers, the holiday could just as easily be nicknamed Green Bean Casserole Day when you consider that each year more than 40 million are served to go along with the 46 million turkeys and tons of dressing and cranberry sauce, which are the only two side items that actually have it beat.
That’s it for us, holiday hounds. There will be more festive fun once we get a strong dose of tryptophan and a nice nap under our belts. In the meantime, let us know how we did. Between this and our previous article, what have we left out that you’d like to see turn up in future installments? Also, how will you be celebrating the holiday? We’ve all got our traditions. Share yours with us, and we’ll promise not to steal them, unless, of course, we