February 7, 2016

9 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Thanksgiving

thanksgiving trivia facts things you didn't know about
As you are undoubtedly aware, tomorrow we celebrate one of America’s favorite holidays: Thanksgiving. It’s the one day a year where we take time out of our busy schedules to eat way too much food, argue with family, and watch football.

Okay, actually, when I put it like that, Thanksgiving kind of sounds like a typical Sunday for most Americans. No, wait—there’s a parade. That’s different. So, yeah, Thanksgiving: it’s like Sunday, only there’s a parade!

Anyway, the point is, Thanksgiving is almost here, and since you’re going to be spending a little extra time with your family, you might as well learn a few interesting pieces of Thanksgiving trivia to impress them. So you’d better check out this list of 9 things you probably didn’t know about Thanksgiving. It might come in handy.

9. The Pilgrims did not invent “Thanksgiving”
Francisco Coronado
In 1541, Spanish explorer Francisco Coronado and his gang had a big “Thanksgiving” feast to celebrate their not-dying that year while looking for gold in Texas. Then, in 1564 in Florida, a bunch of French colonists threw a similar celebration. And English colonists threw such feasts in Maine in 1607 and Jamestown in 1610.

In fact, pretty much every set of explorers, colonists, and pilgrims who came to the new world between 1500 and 1700 celebrated their not-dying by throwing a “Thanksgiving” feast.


8. But we THINK they did because we read it in the newspaper
The Pilgrims in Plymouth really did celebrate a Thanksgiving feast in 1621. And they really did invite the Native Americans who helped them out that year to join the celebration. And there really was a guy named Squanto. So your kindergarden teacher wasn’t completely full of crap.

However, our modern Thanksgiving holiday was not born at that 1621 feast. In reality, no one even knew about that Thanksgiving feast for about 200 years. That’s because the only historical account we have of that feast comes from a letter written by Edward Winslow—which was only discovered in the 1800s. The letter was published in 1841 by newspaper man Alexander Young, who for whatever reason gave the feast the title of the first Thanksgiving.


7. We have Abe Lincoln and Sarah Hale to thank for our modern version of Thanksgiving
sarah hale thanksgiving
The idea that there should be a holiday for national Thanksgiving had been percolating since the time of George Washington, but was gaining steam again in the 1860s thanks to a depressing Civil War. One of the leading proponents of establishing an official Thanksgiving holiday was magazine publisher (and author of children’s poem “Mary Had a Little Lamb”) Sarah Josepha Hale. She wrote a persuasive letter to Abraham Lincoln, who then declared a national holiday in 1863.

Since the idea that the 1621 Thanksgiving was the “first Thanksgiving” had already caught on, that notion just kind of stuck to the new holiday advocated by Hale and created by Lincoln.


6. American will eat about 45 million Turkeys this Thursday
That comes to about 740 million pounds of turkey meat, according to the National Turkey Federation. (Did you know there was a National Turkey Federation? Now you do.)

Interestingly, Minnesota is the #1 turkey-producing state in the country, followed by North Carolina, Arkansas, Missouri, Indiana, and Virginia. Together, these 6 states will have produced about 66% of all the turkey’s eaten this year.


5. The turkeys we eat don’t look anything like the ones we usually see in pictures
wild turkey vs domestic turkey
Remember in grade school when you would trace your hand on a piece of brown construction paper, then color the fingers orange and yellow (for the turkey’s feathers) and the thumb red (for the turkey’s head)? Well, some turkey’s do look like that. But those aren’t the ones we eat.

Those pretty turkeys we have come to associate with a bountiful harvest feast are actually wild turkeys. You can eat one of those, but you’re going to have to go out and shoot it yourself. The ones you buy at the grocery store are domestic turkeys. And as you can see, they aren’t much to look at.


4. One last thing about turkeys: they actually are named after the country
turkey map
Sounds ridiculous, I know, but here’s the deal: turkeys are native to North America, but when Spanish explorers began bringing them back to Europe, people in England thought they bore a striking resemblance to another type of bird that they usually got from Turkish traders. Those birds (which were in fact a species called guinea fowl) were known as turkey fowl. Because the North American birds looked like those, they too became associated with the country of Turkey. And that’s why they’re called turkeys.


3. The day before Thanksgiving is NOT the busiest travel day of the year
busy airport traffic
At least, not when it comes to air travel. In fact, the day before Thanksgiving is typically somewhere between the 30th and 50th busiest travel day of the year for airports.

So what is the busiest travel day of the year? It varies from year to year, but it’s almost always a Friday between June and August. For example, in 2008, the busiest travel day of the year was Friday, July 18. That year there were 21,128 flights—about 2,273 more than the day before Thanksgiving.

Still, that’s not to say people don’t travel a lot for the holiday. The average long-distance trip taken for Thanksgiving is about 215 miles. That puts Thanksgiving second among holidays behind Christmas, when the average long-distance trip is about 275 miles.


2. The official date of Thanksgiving was tinkered with to provide “economic stimulus”
franklin roosevelt thanksgiving
Abe Lincoln set the date for Thanksgiving as the last Thursday in November. But in 1939, Franklin Roosevelt tried to change it from the last to the second-last Thursday. Why? Because the country was still in the grips of the Great Depression and he was trying to give merchants a bigger window to sell goods during the Christmas season. (You see, back then, it was considered uncouth to start pushing Christmas stuff before Thanksgiving. I know, it’s hard to imagine corporations showing that kind of restraint.)

Just as you would expect to happen today, a political struggle ensued over the date of Thanksgiving that was split perfectly along partisan lines. Republicans considered Roosevelt’s attempt to change the date an affront to the legacy of Lincoln (who was himself a Republican). Unlike today, however, a compromise was eventually reached: Congress decided to make Thanksgiving not the last or the second-last Thursday, but the 4th Thursday of November. This meant that, most of the time, it would be the last Thursday; but every once in a while it would be the second-last.


1. The world’s most famous parade is a total rip-off
Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade
Yep, Macy’s stole the idea of a Thanksgiving Day Parade from their main competitor: Gimbels.

In 1920, Gimbels department store in Philadelphia held a Thanksgiving Day parade that had Santa Clause bringing up the rear. The parade is still around today (although Gimbels is not) and is considered the oldest Thanksgiving parade in America.

In 1924, four years after Gimbels invented the Santa-capped Thanksgiving parade, Macy’s apparently realized, hey, that’s a great idea—but let’s do it in New York, which is obviously better than Philadelphia. And the rest is history.

The first balloons were introduced in 1927. Snoopy, who has made the most balloon appearances at the parade, was introduced in 1968.

Today, about 45 million people watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Copy-Cat Parade.