Thanksgiving Facts, Traditions & Trivia
In 1863, Abraham Lincoln, declared the last Thursday of November to be a National Day of Thanksgiving. The fourth Thursday in November was officially sanctioned by Congress as a legal holiday in 1941, under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The ‘Thanksgiving” event that the Pilgrims had included about fifty Pilgrims and ninety Wampanoag Indians. The Indians may not have been invited per se, but came to see what the celebration was all about, and were welcomed in.
The Pilgrims took their religion very seriously – if the Thanksgiving was actually a religious event, they probably would not have let the Indians (non-Christians) join in. A religious event would have mostly involved praying all day – not celebrating.
The first Thanksgiving probably actually took place in early or mid-October of 1620 -but it was not an annual event for the Pilgrims. Some Texans claim the first Thanksgiving in America actually took place in little San Elizario, a community near El Paso, in 1598, and at the Berkeley Plantation near Virginia’s James River, claims the first Thanksgiving in America was held there on December 4th, 1619.
Unlike today’s feast consisting of turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberry, etc – the original Thanksgiving menu probably consisted of the following items: duck, venison, fish, lobster, clams, berries, fruit, pumpkin, and squash. The pilgrims weren’t really prepared for baking, and didn’t have access to butter, etc, so they did not have pies at the first Thanksgiving.
‘Turducken’ – deboned turkey, duck and chicken nested inside each other then cooked is popular with many families.
Being held on a Thursday, often with no work on Fridays for white collar employees, the extended four day weekend is often a time for families to gather together – the Saturday after Thanksgiving is often a time for high school, college, or locals reunions.
Many people blame the turkey for the sleepiness after the big meal, but chances are it is the trimmings, carbohydrate-rich sides and desserts that allow tryptophan into the body that cause the need for a nap.
The Wednesday night before is actually one of the biggest nights of the year for bars and nightclubs, matching and sometimes surpassing St. Patrick’s Day for consuming alcoholic beverages. Sadly, that also adds to the statistics that say that US deaths spike over Thanksgiving.
Today’s traditions often include: pre-meal snacks, the children’s table, NFL football, scheduled with traditional rivals, radio stations begin playing Christmas music, The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (televised nationwide), The Dunkin Donuts Parade (in Philadelphia, a continuation of the first Turkey day Parade, started in Philly in 1920) – the Parade is also the official introduction of Santa Clause for the Holiday Season.
Another tradition is ‘making a wish’ – breaking the wishbone of the bird, often between a senior and junior member of the family.
Often families take advantage of the time together to play games – indoor and outdoor, and make plans for Christmas. Outside of the distractions of television, it is a popular time to ‘get to know’ other family members better. It is often a good time to learn about the family tree.
Thanksgiving is also the prelude to Black Friday, named because it is one of the biggest shopping days of the year – and the day (hopefully) retail businesses make a significant profit.
Things best not discussed on this day: politics, religion and family gossip.
Recent presidents have pardoned turkeys in the days before Thanksgiving. 2014’s lucky duo (officially pardoned and the alternate) were Cheese and Mac. Both came from Cooper Farms in Oakwood, Ohio. Prior pardoned birds were:
1999 – Harry
2000 – Jerry
2001 – Liberty
2002 – Katie (the first pardoned female turkey) and Zack
2003 – Stars and Stripes
2004 – Biscuit and Gravy
2005 – Marshmallow and Yam
2006 – Flyer and Fryer
2007 – May and Flower
2008 – Pumpkin and Pecan
2009 – Courage and Carolina
2010 – Apple and Cider
2011 – Liberty and Peace
2012 – Cobbler and Gobbler
2013 – Popcorn and Caramel
2014 – Cheese and Mac
2015 – Abe & Honest
2016 – Tator and Tots
Thanksgiving History, Trivia, and Fun Facts
Thanksgiving History Highlights
Traditional Thanksgiving Pardon
Every year before the Thanksgiving holiday, the President chooses a turkey or two who will be spared from ending up on your dining room table. In a ceremony that takes place at the White House, one official turkey is pardoned as well as the occasional alternate gobbler.
Some say that this tradition started with Harry Truman in 1947*, but it became official in 1989, with President G.W. Bush. Rumor has it, the turkey President Truman ‘pardoned’ was actually his selected Thanksgiving meal.
Names for the lucky birds are chosen by voters on the White House website.
Here is a list of some previously pardoned turkeys:
Abraham Lincoln actually spared a turkey named “Jack” from becoming the main dish in the Presidential holiday meal.
The obligatory Thanksgiving Joke:
A lady was picking through the frozen turkeys at the grocery store but she couldn’t find one big enough for her family. She asked a stock boy, ‘Do these turkeys get any bigger?’
The stock boy replied, ‘No ma’am, they’re dead.’