The Origins and Traditions of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a holiday filled with rich traditions, from eating turkey and cranberry sauce, to watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade on television, there are many things that Americans like to eat, do and watch on the fourth Thursday of November each year.  Following are some interesting facts regarding the traditions we love to embrace, as well as other Thanksgiving information that we may not have thought about.  So when you find yourself laid back on the couch in a food coma following your Thanksgiving feast with friends and family, drop some Thanksgiving knowledge.

The Origins:

1) PilgrimsThe first Thanksgiving Day  was celebrated in 1621 at Plymouth, Massachusetts, and organized by the Pilgrim Leader, Governor William Bradford.  Bradford invited the neighboring Wampanoag Indians (who taught the Pilgrims how to cultivate the land) to the feast which lasted three days.

2) After over 200 years later, when Abe Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday, it was thanks to the tireless efforts of a magazine editor named Sarah Josepha Hale. Her other claim to fame? She also wrote the nursery rhyme, “Mary had a Little Lamb.” Lincoln issued a ‘Thanksgiving Proclamation’ on third October 1863 and officially set aside the last Thursday of November as the national day for Thanksgiving.

3) In 1939, President Roosevelt proclaimed that Thanksgiving would take place on November 23rd, not November 30th, as a way to spur economic growth and extend the Christmas shopping season.  However, Congress passed a law on December 26, 1941, ensuring that all Americans would celebrate a unified Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November every year.

The Turkey:

turkey_dinner4) No turkey was on the menu at the first Thanksgiving: Historians say that no turkey was served at the first Thanksgiving. The feast probably included deer or venison, ducks, geese,oysters, lobster, eel and fish. They probably ate pumpkins, but no pumpkin pies. They also didn’t eat mashed potatoes or cranberry relish, but they probably ate cranberries.

5) If Ben Franklin had it his way, the wild turkey would be our national bird. An eagle, he wrote in a letter to his daughter, had “bad moral character.” A turkey, on the other hand, was a “much more respectable bird.”

6) Presidential pardon of a turkey: Each year, the president of the U.S pardons a turkey and spares it from being eaten for Thanksgiving dinner. The first turkey pardon ceremony started with President Truman in 1947.

7) In the US, about 280 million turkeys are sold for the Thanksgiving celebrations.

8) There are four places in the U.S. named Turkey.  Louisiana’s Turkey Creek is the most populous, with  440 residents. There’s also Turkey, Texas; Turkey, North Carolina; and Turkey Creek, Arizona. Oh, let’s not forget the two townships in Pennsylvania: the creatively named Upper Turkeyfoot and Lower Turkeyfoot!

9) Thanksgiving is the reason for TV dinners! In 1953, Swanson had so much extra turkey (260 tons) that a salesman told them they should package it onto aluminum trays with other sides like sweet potatoes — and the first TV dinner was born!


10) Plan on going shopping? Not if you’re a plumber. Black Friday is the busiest day of the year for them, according to Roto-Rooter, the nation’s largest plumbing service. macy's parade

11) Originally known as Macy’s Christmas Parade—to signify the launch of the Christmas shopping season—the first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade took place in New York City in 1924. It was launched by Macy’s employees and featured animals from the Central Park Zoo. Today, some 3 million people attend the annual parade and another 44 million watch it on television.

12) Snoopy has appeared as a giant balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade more times than any other character in history. As the Flying Ace, Snoopy made his sixth appearance in the 2006 parade.

13)  In 1934, the newly created Detroit Lions, in an effort to appeal to fans in their inaugural season, played the world champion Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving Day. Although the Lions lost 19-16, the game had a strong turnout – 26,000 seats sold – and was broadcast nationally on NBC Radio. The Lions have remained a holiday fixture, playing a game on Thanksgiving Day every year since 1945.