Dylan Ebs

Written by Dylan Ebs

Modified & Updated: 20 Jul 2024

Source: Housebeautiful.com

Thanksgiving is a holiday rich in history, tradition, and delicious food. But how much do you really know about this special day? Thanksgiving isn't just about turkey and pumpkin pie; it's a celebration with roots that go back centuries. From the first feast shared by Pilgrims and Native Americans to modern-day parades and football games, Thanksgiving has evolved in fascinating ways. Did you know that the first Thanksgiving lasted three days? Or that Abraham Lincoln declared it a national holiday during the Civil War? Whether you're curious about its origins or quirky traditions, these 45 facts will give you a deeper appreciation for Thanksgiving.

Key Takeaways:

  • The first Thanksgiving in 1621 featured venison, fowl, and seafood, not turkey. President Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863 during the Civil War.
  • Thanksgiving traditions include the Macy's Parade, football games, and pardoning a turkey. The holiday has also made its mark in pop culture and is celebrated worldwide.
Table of Contents

The Origins of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a beloved holiday celebrated primarily in the United States and Canada. Its origins are deeply rooted in history, culture, and tradition. Here are some fascinating facts about how Thanksgiving began.

  1. The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
  2. The feast lasted for three days and included games, dancing, and singing.
  3. Turkey was not the main dish at the first Thanksgiving; instead, venison, fowl, and seafood were served.
  4. The Pilgrims did not use forks during the meal; they ate with spoons, knives, and their hands.
  5. The first Thanksgiving was not called "Thanksgiving" by the Pilgrims; it was a harvest celebration.

Thanksgiving Becomes a National Holiday

The journey of Thanksgiving from a regional celebration to a national holiday is an interesting one. Here are some key moments that helped shape Thanksgiving as we know it today.

  1. Sarah Josepha Hale, a magazine editor, campaigned for 17 years to make Thanksgiving a national holiday.
  2. President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863 during the Civil War.
  3. Lincoln scheduled Thanksgiving for the final Thursday in November.
  4. Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving up a week in 1939 to extend the holiday shopping season, but it was met with controversy.
  5. In 1941, Congress officially established Thanksgiving as the fourth Thursday in November.

Thanksgiving Traditions

Thanksgiving is rich with traditions that have evolved over the years. These customs bring families together and create lasting memories.

  1. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade began in 1924 and has become an annual tradition.
  2. Watching football on Thanksgiving started in 1934 with a game between the Detroit Lions and the Chicago Bears.
  3. Breaking the wishbone is a popular Thanksgiving tradition believed to bring good luck.
  4. The tradition of pardoning a turkey by the President began with President George H.W. Bush in 1989.
  5. Thanksgiving leftovers are often enjoyed for days after the holiday, with turkey sandwiches being a favorite.

Thanksgiving Around the World

While Thanksgiving is primarily celebrated in the U.S. and Canada, other countries have their own versions of this holiday.

  1. Canada celebrates Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October.
  2. In Germany, a similar harvest festival called Erntedankfest is celebrated in early October.
  3. Grenada celebrates Thanksgiving on October 25th to commemorate the U.S. invasion in 1983.
  4. Liberia, founded by freed American slaves, celebrates Thanksgiving on the first Thursday in November.
  5. Japan has a similar holiday called Labor Thanksgiving Day, celebrated on November 23rd.

Thanksgiving Foods

The Thanksgiving meal is the highlight of the holiday, featuring a variety of delicious dishes. Here are some interesting facts about Thanksgiving foods.

  1. Turkey is the most common main dish, with over 46 million turkeys consumed each Thanksgiving.
  2. Cranberry sauce was first introduced to the Thanksgiving table in the early 19th century.
  3. Pumpkin pie, a staple dessert, originated from early American settlers who used pumpkins as a food source.
  4. Sweet potatoes are often served with marshmallows, a tradition that began in the early 20th century.
  5. Green bean casserole was created by the Campbell Soup Company in 1955.

Fun Thanksgiving Facts

Thanksgiving is full of fun and quirky facts that add to the holiday's charm. Here are some you might not know.

  1. The night before Thanksgiving is one of the busiest bar nights of the year in the U.S.
  2. The average American consumes about 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving Day.
  3. Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is the busiest shopping day of the year.
  4. The first TV dinner was created in 1953 by Swanson, inspired by Thanksgiving leftovers.
  5. The heaviest turkey on record weighed 86 pounds.

Thanksgiving and Giving Back

Thanksgiving is also a time for giving back to the community. Many people use this holiday to help those in need.

  1. Many communities host Thanksgiving food drives to collect non-perishable items for those in need.
  2. Soup kitchens and shelters often serve special Thanksgiving meals to the homeless.
  3. Some families volunteer their time on Thanksgiving to help serve meals at local charities.
  4. The "Turkey Trot" is a popular Thanksgiving Day race that raises money for various causes.
  5. Many people donate to food banks during the Thanksgiving season.

Thanksgiving in Pop Culture

Thanksgiving has made its mark in pop culture, appearing in movies, TV shows, and music. Here are some notable examples.

  1. The classic Thanksgiving movie "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" was released in 1987.
  2. The "Friends" TV show is famous for its Thanksgiving episodes, featuring memorable moments and guest stars.
  3. The song "Alice's Restaurant" by Arlo Guthrie is a Thanksgiving tradition for many, telling a humorous story set on Thanksgiving Day.
  4. The Peanuts special "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" first aired in 1973 and remains a beloved holiday classic.
  5. "The Thanksgiving Song" by Adam Sandler, performed on "Saturday Night Live," has become a holiday favorite.

Thanksgiving and Technology

Technology has changed the way we celebrate Thanksgiving, from how we cook to how we connect with loved ones.

  1. Many people use apps and websites to find new Thanksgiving recipes.
  2. Video calls have become a popular way to connect with family members who can't be there in person.
  3. Social media is filled with Thanksgiving posts, from food photos to expressions of gratitude.
  4. Online shopping on Thanksgiving Day has become increasingly popular, with many retailers offering early Black Friday deals.
  5. Smart kitchen gadgets, like programmable slow cookers and instant-read thermometers, make preparing the Thanksgiving meal easier.

Thanksgiving's Rich Tapestry

Thanksgiving isn't just about turkey and football. It's a holiday steeped in history, traditions, and fascinating facts. From the first feast in 1621 to the modern-day parades, Thanksgiving has evolved but still holds its core values of gratitude and togetherness. Did you know that the first Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade featured live animals from the Central Park Zoo? Or that the TV dinner was invented because of a Thanksgiving surplus? These tidbits make the holiday even more intriguing. Whether you're sharing a meal with family or watching the big game, remember the rich history behind this beloved holiday. Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on what we're thankful for and to appreciate the quirky, fun facts that make it unique. So, as you enjoy your pumpkin pie, think about the stories and traditions that have shaped this special day. Happy Thanksgiving!

Frequently Asked Questions

What's the deal with Thanksgiving and turkeys?
Well, turkeys have become almost synonymous with Thanksgiving dinner. Historically, wild turkey was a readily available food source for the early settlers in America, making it a practical choice for the feast. Nowadays, gobbling up turkey on this holiday is a tradition that continues to bring families together around the dinner table.
Why do Americans watch football on Thanksgiving?
Football on Thanksgiving is as much a part of the holiday as pumpkin pie. This tradition kicked off in 1869, just a few years after Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday. High schools, colleges, and eventually the NFL started holding games on Thanksgiving, turning it into a day of family, food, and football.
Can you explain the story behind the first Thanksgiving?
Sure thing! The first Thanksgiving dates back to 1621 when the Pilgrims celebrated their first harvest in the New World. This three-day feast was attended by 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims. It was a time of giving thanks for the abundant harvest and the support from the Native Americans, who taught the settlers how to grow crops in their new environment.
How did Thanksgiving become a national holiday?
Thanksgiving became a national holiday thanks to Sarah Josepha Hale, a magazine editor who campaigned for years to make it happen. Her persistent efforts paid off when Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, amidst the Civil War, in a move to foster unity among the states.
What's with the presidential turkey pardon?
The presidential turkey pardon is a quirky and fun tradition where the President of the United States "pardons" a turkey, saving it from being eaten. This tradition officially started with President George H.W. Bush in 1989, though there are accounts of similar acts by earlier presidents. It's a light-hearted event that adds a bit of humor to the holiday season.
Why is the day after Thanksgiving called Black Friday?
Black Friday got its name from the chaos and traffic accidents that would occur as shoppers rushed to take advantage of post-Thanksgiving sales. Retailers later adopted the term with a more positive spin, indicating the day their profits would go from "the red" into "the black." It marks the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season.
Are there any unique Thanksgiving celebrations around the world?
While Thanksgiving is predominantly an American holiday, similar celebrations occur around the globe, each with its own unique twist. For example, Canada celebrates Thanksgiving in October, reflecting on the harvest and blessings of the past year. Other countries might not have an official Thanksgiving day but celebrate harvest festivals that share the spirit of giving thanks.

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