Things You Didn’t Realize About Thanksgiving

November 25th, 2015 by

Here’s a few surprising facts about everyone’s favorite day of feast:

  • Sarah Josepha Hale, who penned “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” was also the “Mother of Thanksgiving,” petitioning tirelessly for four decades (including appealing to President Abraham Lincoln) to get Thanksgiving nationally recognized. The holiday wasn’t put into federal law until 1941, but has been celebrated in roughly the same form, on slightly varying observance dates near the autumn harvest, since the 17th century.

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  • 3 million people attend the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City each year. The parade has been held annually since 1924, but is not the oldest Thanksgiving parade in the country: that distinction goes to Gimbel’s, a Philadelphia-based department store, in 1920.

 

thanksgiving_turkey

  • The U.S. President traditionally pardons a turkey on Thanksgiving. (That’s one turkey with immunity while 46 million others are eaten in the U.S. on Thanksgiving.) This tradition of presenting the commander-in-chief with a turkey formally began with Harry Truman in 1947, although its unofficial observance has been traced back as far as Abraham Lincoln. The pardoning of the turkey actually didn’t come into being until 1989; past presidents simply ate the bird!

 

  • Black Friday is the busiest day of the year for Roto-Rooter, the nation’s largest plumbing service. One can only speculate that this relates to a higher volume of household guests who “overwhelm the system.”

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  • Why is it called a turkey? Centuries ago, Europeans took a liking to the guinea fowls imported to the continent. Since the birds were imported by Turkish merchants, the English called them turkeys. Later, when the Spanish arrived in America, they encountered a bird that reminded them of the taste of those guinea fowls. When they were sent to Europe, the English called these birds “turkeys” as well.

 

  • The early American settlers gave thanks by praying and abstaining from food, which is how their Puritan values directed them to celebrate their first harvest. We can thank the Wampanoag Indians who joined them for turning their fast into a three-day feast!

 

  • Benjamin Franklin famously suggested that the turkey was a better choice for 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.”

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  • The tradition of watching football on Thanksgiving long predates the first nationally-broadcast game, played between the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears, on Thanksgiving in 1934. Even in its earliest days in the late 19th century, football of all levels has traditionally been played on Thanksgiving.

 

  • Technically, Thanksgiving is not observed on the final Thursday of November. On rare occasion, a fifth Thursday will fall in the month, which prompted the government to specify (in 1941) the fourth Thursday of November as the official date. Unsurprisingly, the legislative battle over whether Thanksgiving should be based on a day of the week or a fixed date was a heated partisan issue debated nationwide. Prior to this change, which was led by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and a group of retail companies, Abraham Lincoln was the first president to declare a single day of Thanksgiving observance for the whole country in 1863 in an attempt to unify the nation divided by the Civil War.

 

  • The United States is not the only country that observes an annual fall harvest holiday that’s centered around giving thanks. Similar celebrations are held in Canada, the Netherlands, the U.K., Germany, Japan, Liberia, as well as the islands Grenada, Saint Lucia, and Norfolk Island.