Photo by xybermatthew
Whenever November hits, you can be sure that a lot of people will be talking turkey. Thanksgiving is one of the country’s most beloved holidays, a four-day weekend of football, food, friends, and family. The annual celebration of the feast between the pilgrims at Plymouth and the Wampanoag tribesmen is eagerly anticipated by kids and adults alike.
Over the course of its history, this cherished national holiday has had more than a few interesting facts pop up about itself. These fascinating pieces of trivia are not only fun to know, but they have the tendency to make you fall in love with the holiday even more. Here are 32 of the more intriguing tidbits about Thanksgiving:
1. Mary Had a Little… Turkey? — Thanksgiving wasn’t always a national holiday. In fact, it was only declared as one in 1863, thanks in large parts to a campaign started by magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, you might know her better as the author of the popular nursery rhyme, “Mary Had a Little Lamb”.
2. Roosevelt’s Mistake — Although the official proclamation was to celebrate Thanksgiving on every fourth Thursday of November, Franklin Delano Roosevelt actually changed the date to the third Thursday of
March November from 1939-1941. He made the change on the assumption that the economy would benefit from a longer holiday shopping season. Public outrage, however, soon changed that and Thanksgiving was back on schedule ever since.
3. Franklin’s Fine Feathered Friend — Not everyone was happy when the bald eagle was chosen as the country’s national bird. Benjamin Franklin was among those opposed to the decision, saying that the eagle had a “bad moral character”. Instead, he preferred the turkey, a more respectable bird and a true native of America.
4. That’s a Heavy Meal! —We sure do love our turkey. According to a study done by the National Turkey Foundation, Americans consumed over 690 million pounds of turkey during Thanksgiving in 2007. If that number doesn’t stun you enough, think about this — that is just about the same weight as the entire population of Singapore!
5. Brand New Menu — The original Thanksgiving dinner never had pumpkin pie on the table. In fact, it was a lot different from what we traditionally enjoy each year. The pilgrims and Native Americans at the first dinner feasted on wild fowl and venison, along with more exotic seafood like lobster, eel, seal, and swan! Can you imagine stuffing a seal?
6. The Happiest Place on Earth — It’s an adorable tradition — every year, the president “pardons” a turkey from being someone’s dinner on Thanksgiving. While each pardon has had its own quirks, few are as memorable as the double pardon in 2007. The turkeys May and Flower were not only excused from the dinner table, they were proclaimed honorary grand marshals at Disney World’s Thanksgiving parade!
7. The Air We Breathe — Macy’s annual Thanksgiving parade has been a well-loved tradition since the original one in 1924. However, few people remember that the parade was actually suspended from 1942 — 1945. The helium used for the parade’s enormous balloon animals was needed for the war effort.
8. Canadian Holiday Exchange Rate — Canada celebrates Thanksgiving, too, albeit on the second Monday of October rather than the fourth Thursday of November. While the festivities might be just as good as the American version’s at times, the timing of the Canadian version gives them a three-day weekend, as opposed to the United States’ four-day weekend.
9. Mistaken Identity — When Columbus discovered America, he thought he was in India. Because of this, he believed that the turkeys he saw were actually a type of peacock, since peacocks themselves were plentiful in India. He even named our fine pheasant friends the turkeys “tuka”, the Indian word for “peacock”.
10. A Thanksgiving by Any Other Name… — Thanksgiving has been and still is referred to by a lot of other different names. Other than the slightly obvious “T-Day” and “Turkey Day”, the holiday is also known in New York as “Macy’s Day”, in reference to the department store’s annual parade. The Canadians probably have the most unique nickname for the holiday — they call it “Yanksgiving” in order to differentiate it from their own Thanksgiving.
11. Birds of a Feather Don’t Always Bear the Same Flavour — The turkey served at the original Thanksgiving probably tasted different from the domesticated fowls we all know and love. Wild turkeys are almost all dark meat (and yes, that includes the breast), and often have a more distinct turkey flavour.
12. Puritans and College Frat Boys Have Something in Common — Although the puritans aboard the Mayflower followed a strict moral code that sometimes makes them appear like the polar opposite of a typical college frat boy, they did have one thing in common with “the bros” — puritans really enjoyed their beer. In fact, beer was their drink of choice, and they brought it along with them on the Mayflower and probably served it at the first Thanksgiving feast.
13. Two Thanksgivings are Better than One — Before the official proclamation of Thanksgiving as a national holiday, people were celebrating it on random dates of the year. The date changed every year, hopping from date to date. On some years, like 1815, Thanksgiving was celebrated twice!
14. A Nice, Relaxing Meal — Sure, the holiday season can be fun, but it’s also pretty stressful. The hustle and bustle of setting up decorations, buying presents, and cooking feasts can be overwhelming. Luckily, though, a traditional Thanksgiving meal is packed with stress-busting food! Stuffing is rich in vitamin B1, nuts have a lot of magnesium, and turkey contains tryptophan, which leads to the development of serotonin in your brain. Holiday food really IS happy food!
15. Fruit of the Day — Cranberries are a well-loved part of most Thanksgiving meals. In fact, more than 94% of Thanksgiving dinners serve cranberry sauce. Why is it such an important part of tradition? It’s probably because cranberries are one of only three fruits native to North America, making them a significant part of American heritage.
16. Now That’s a Party! — Although the spotlight is on the meal itself, there was actually a lot more going on during the first Thanksgiving. It was a full-blown feast, complete with singing and dancing, and even some games! The pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribesmen kept the festivities going for three whole days, which, by today’s standards, would be described as “one heck of a party!”
17. It’s All Greek to Me — The cornucopia, a traditional Thanksgiving dinner centrepiece, has its origins rooted in Greek mythology. According to the myth, the goat Amalthea broke off one of her horns and offered it to Zeus as a sign of reverence. Early Greeks followed the goat’s example by filling goat’s horns with offerings, creating the first cornucopia, or “horn of plenty”.
18. Land of the Turkey — Ever hear the expression, “I love something so much, I want to name my children after it”? Well, America sure does love its turkey, as the country has three places named after everyone’s favourite Thanksgiving entree: Turkey, Texas; Turkey, North Carolina; and Turkey Creek, Louisiana.
19. Look! Up in the Sky! — It’s pretty hard to imagine a turkey flying, and with good reason — most of the turkeys we see can’t. While domesticated turkeys don’t have the ability to fly, wild turkeys actually can. In fact, wild turkeys can fly for short distances at speeds up to 55 miles an hour!
20. TV Dinners and Turkeys — TV dinners owe a lot of their existence to Thanksgiving. At about the time of the holiday in 1953, the first TV dinner was made. The reason? Swanson needed to do something with the 260 tons of frozen turkeys they had left over after Thanksgiving!
21. Table for 140 — If you think your family has a huge guest list for Thanksgiving, think again. The first Thanksgiving was a huge affair for its time. Roughly 90 Wampanoag tribesmen and 50 pilgrims took part in the feast. Imagine how much food was around, considering each of those 140 people was well-fed for three whole days!
22. Fasting, not Feasting — Thanksgiving wasn’t always about the food. In fact, it was quite the opposite. The pilgrims at Plymouth were Puritans, and that meant their traditional method of giving thanks was through praying and abstaining from food. The feast came about when a bountiful harvest blessed them and the neighbouring Wampanoag tribesmen, creating the holiday as we know it today.
23. Something to Be Thankful for — It’s a heart-warming tradition to remember what we’re thankful for each Thanksgiving. While each of us has our own reasons, the pilgrims’ reasons were certainly something to appreciate. In the time between the start of their journey and the first Thanksgiving feast, roughly half of the pilgrims weren’t able to survive. The remaining pilgrims present at the feast were thankful to be alive.
24. No Popcorn — Popcorn has become something of a traditional treat at Thanksgiving tables. It makes sense, too — the Native Americans at the first feast introduced corn to the pilgrims. As least it would make sense, if only the corn the Wampanoag tribesmen brought was the kind that popped. The variety that was at the original Thanksgiving was only either singed a little, or mashed to make batter.
25. Space Aces — Turkeys have come a long way since the first Thanksgiving. They’ve even left the planet! The first meal on the moon was a foil-packed roast turkey dinner with all the trimmings. Thanksgiving has since been celebrated aboard numerous space shuttles, including the Columbia and the Mir.
26. What’s in a Name? — There are actually two theories behind the origin of the word “turkey”. There’s Columbus’ mistake of calling it an Indian peacock (“tuka”), and the Native American word for the bird, “firkee”. Of course, some people argue that the name came about from the sound a frightened turkey makes, which goes something like “turk, turk”.
27. Be Still, My Beating Heart — It’s a little funny to imagine it, but turkeys actually do have heart attacks! In fact, during test runs by the Air Force, turkeys would drop dead from the sonic boom of a jet breaking the sound barrier!
28. Stuffing’s not for Stuffing — As another reminder of why some names don’t really match what they represent, stuffing isn’t always used to stuff turkeys. It’s certain that a lot of you reading this never put the stuffing inside the turkey. A recent survey has shown that only 50% of Americans actually stuff their turkeys with the stuffing. The other half likes their stuffing on the side.
29. Big, Big Bird — Turkeys are great for two things in a Thanksgiving dinner — they’re delicious, and they’re big enough to share with the whole family. The biggest ever dressed turkey recorded, however, was a whopping 86 pounds! The leftovers from that bird must have lasted months!
30. Fruit, but not Food — Although they were probably being snacked on from time to time, Native Americans didn’t really enjoy the cranberry as food. Instead, they preferred using the crimson red fruit as a dye and for decorating pottery. Seems a shame, though, because those bouncy red berries are absolutely delicious (although it helps to have a lot of sugar)!
31. (Un)Evident Utensil — Mom would have probably freaked at the first Thanksgiving. Although there were utensils present, they weren’t in complete sets — the pilgrims and Native Americans didn’t have forks with them. Instead, they ate with spoons, knives, and their hands.
32. A Holiday of Many Meanings — Long before Thanksgiving was dedicated to remembering the meal shared by the pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribesmen, the holiday was celebrated in thanks of many other things. George Washington, for example, held an all-colony thanksgiving celebration after his victory over Sarasota. Others spent it as a religious holiday for appreciating their blessings. During the Revolutionary War, eight days of thanksgiving were set aside in gratitude for victories and safety. Thanksgiving was also a day for celebrating a bountiful harvest. No one can really pinpoint the exact person responsible for creating the Thanksgiving tradition as we know it now (or exactly when he or she created it, for that matter), but it’s safe to say that no one’s complaining about the wonderful holiday we all know and love.