Interesting Facts About Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving has been ranked as America’s second favorite holiday (not surprisingly, Christmas lands in the No. 1 spot). Like many other holidays, Thanksgiving is largely based off historical tradition. What started as a congenial harvest feast shared between the Wampanoag and Pilgrim settlers has now become a day dedicated to family time. Each year on Thanksgiving Day friends and families gather together to give thanks and enjoy a hot meal, or in some cases a feast, together made up of turkey, stuffing, gravy, and all the other traditional fixings.

While most of us celebrate Thanksgiving each year and have probably done so our entire lives, you might be surprised to find out just how much you don’t know about this annual holiday! Here’s a fun look on some interesting facts about Thanksgiving Day…

1. Thanksgiving was Beginning of TV Dinners

If you haven’t tried a TV dinner before, then you’ve definitely heard of one or at least passed one in the grocery store. The TV dinner is a concept that emerged in the 1950s, but what you probably didn’t know was that it was actually due to a Thanksgiving mix-up at Swanson. An article in the says the idea emerged back in 1953 after an employee at Swanson miscalculated the shipment of Thanksgiving turkeys and ordered 260 tons by a mistake. This was obviously a HUGE miscalculation.

Thankfully salesman Gerry Thomas had an idea. He came up with the plan to fill 5,000 aluminum trays with turkey, along with all the other classic Thanksgiving fixings like cornbread, gravy, peas, and sweet potatoes. The source says he was inspired by the trays of pre-prepared foods served on airplanes. Swanson and Thomas joined together to sell the first of it’s kind — the TV dinner. And it proved to be a huge success. In the first year of production (1954), they sold 10 million turkey dinners for 98 cents each.

2. Several Places in the U.S. Named Turkey

According to the United States Census Bureau there are four places in the U.S. that are named after this particular holiday. There’s Turkey Creek in Arizona which had 405 residents in 2015 and Turkey Town in North Carolina. There’s also Turkey City in Texas with 367 residents, and Turkey Creek Village in Louisiana with 357 residents. The source also notes that in addition to these cities and villages, there are 11 townships in the United States with the word “turkey” in their name. For example in Pennsylvania there are two townships called Upper Turkeyfoot and Lower Turkeyfoot.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons via Business Insider

3. Visit the 17th Century Plymouth Plantation

Travel back in time by visiting the Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts! This historic attraction is called Plimoth Plantation was built to depict a traditional Colonial English community in the 1600s and the Wampanoag home site. The museum was created in 1947 by archaeologist Henry Hornblower II to preserve a piece of history and educate those who visited. Fortunately it still operates today as a place true to its roots. The plantation is open to the public with the purchase of tickets which includes a tour, a Thanksgiving dinner along with many authentic foods, as well as entertainment in the form of centuries-old psalms, stories and songs.

4. Ben Franklin Wanted the Turkey to be the U.S. Official Bird

It’s hard to imagine the United States of America having anything other than the great and magnificent bald eagle as its official bird, especially if it’s up against a silly looking turkey! Surprisingly, Benjamin Franklin was the one who actually disagreed with the idea of naming the bald eagle the official bird of the U.S., but that was only realized when a letter to his daughter was uncovered. A year after the Great Seal was chosen as by Congress to be presented with the bald eagle as its centerpiece, Franklin wrote a letter to his daughter which read, “I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country; he is a bird of bad moral character…For the truth the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original Native of America.” It seems he believed the turkey would’ve been a better and more respectable representation of their country.

5. Thomas Jefferson Canceled Thanksgiving

Chandler Bing from Friends wasn’t the only one who hated Thanksgiving — Thomas Jefferson did too! Well, that’s not entirely true, but many people believe he did because he infamously refused to mark the day back in 1801. According to it was actually much more complicated than him just ‘hating’ the holiday. “For Jefferson, supporting Thanksgiving meant supporting state-sponsored religion, and it was his aversion to mixing church and state that earned him a reputation as America’s only anti-Thanksgiving president,” writes the source. Because Thanksgiving involved a prayer, he felt that the holiday went against his beliefs and that it would violate the First Amendment.

It’s important to remember that during this time Thanksgiving wasn’t a national holiday (that didn’t start until 1863 when Lincoln declared it a holiday after the Civil War). In the early 1800s presidents would merely “proclaim periodic days of fasting, prayer and expressing gratitude,” says, so it was declared on a year-to-year basis. Unlike his predecessors George Washington and John Adams, Jefferson decided not to proclaim or recognize holidays like Thanksgiving.

6. Franksgiving

Ever heard the term ‘Franksgiving’? It was coined back in 1939 when Franklin Roosevlet decided to change the date of Thanksgiving Day! Everyone knows that American Thanksgiving is always celebrated on the last Thursday of November, but apparently Roosevelt disagreed. When he was president, he decided to change it to the second-to-last Thursday in November. According to the US National Archives, Roosevelt was worried that Thanksgiving Day was celebrated too close to Christmas and that “the shortened Christmas shopping season might dampen the economic recovery,” so he issued a Presidential Proclamation to change the date.

While his intentions were good, the change caused a great deal of confusion. The Wall Street Journal writes that most states ignored the date change and continued to celebrate Thanksgiving Day on the last Thursday in November, while Colorado, Mississippi and Texas celebrated during both weeks. Not surprisingly, many people weren’t happy about the change, especially since Thanksgiving is a holiday that is embedded in tradition. Thus, many people started to refer to the incident as “Franksgiving” and two years later Congress decided to ditch the new policy and revert back to the original date which is now the legal holiday.

Library of President Franklin D. Roosevelt

7. When was the First Thanksgiving?

Most Americans believe the first Thanksgiving took place in Plymouth, Massachusetts in October 1621 among the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians. Back then, this day wasn’t referred to as Thanksgiving. It was a three day ceremony “imbued with religious meaning and set aside for prayer and worship,” writes Time Magazine. The Pilgrim’s didn’t refer to their celebration as Thanksgiving until July 1623 when Governor William Bradford declared a day to give thanks after a 14-day rain ended their drought and saved the harvest.

The Thanksgiving debate began in 1962 when President John. F. Kennedy referred to Plymouth as the first location of Thanksgiving. Virginia state senator John J. Wicker Jr. made it his mission to convince the country that Virginia was the location of the first Thanksgiving, not Massachusetts. Wicker argued that the first Thanksgiving took place when the English settlers arrived in Berkeley Plantation near Richmond. He wrote to the president to argue his case, and much to his surprise, he received an apology from JFK’s assistant, historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. When Kennedy made his next Thanksgiving proclamation in 1963, he said: “Over three centuries ago, our forefathers in Virginia and Massachusetts…set aside a time of thanksgiving.”

8. …And It’s Unclear Whether They Even Ate Turkey

There actually is no record of what was eaten during what’s referred to and believed to be the “first Thanksgiving.” Today this holiday centers largely around foods like stuffing, turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pie, but there’s no proof this is what was served back in 1621. In fact, believes it was most likely lobster, seal, deer, and swan which was prepared with Native American spices and cooking methods. “Because the Pilgrims had no oven and the Mayflower’s sugar supply had dwindled by the fall of 1621, the meal did not feature pies, cakes or other desserts, which have become a hallmark of contemporary celebrations,” writes the source.

9. Good Friday is the Busiest Day for Plumbers

While the rest of us are relaxing, shopping, or still trying to digest all the food from the day before, plumbers are working harder than they have all year! Roto-Rooter reported in 2017 that black Friday is the busiest day of the year for plumbers who are called to peoples homes to fix Thanksgiving day crisis’s like clogged kitchen sinks, garbage disposals, and of course, toilets. The same source notes that instead of calling it black Friday, most plumbers refer to it as “brown Friday,” for (hopefully) obvious reasons!

10. Football is a Staple of Thanksgiving

Whether people enjoy the sport or not, football has become an integral part of Thanksgiving. Some even believe it has clouded the true meaning behind Thanksgiving which is to give thanks. Luckily in America, many people love this sport which is why it has become so popular! According to Time magazine, the first Thanksgiving Day football game took place in the mid-1870s in Hoboken, New Jersey when Princeton played Yale and the first Thanksgiving Day NFL game was in 1934 between the Detroit Lions and the Chicago Bears. To continue with tradition, the Detroit Lions have continued to play a game on Thanksgiving Day every day since. The only time this didn’t happen was during World War II when the team was required to serve, says the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

11. The First Thanksgiving Day Parade

Similar to turkey and football, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade has become a huge staple of this holiday, and like everything else associated with this holiday, much of it has to do with tradition. The parade has been around since 1924, but it looked a lot different back then! It didn’t feature any balloons, but that’s okay because it had something WAY cooler! The book titled Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade by Robert M. Grippo and Christopher Hoskins details the history of the parade and says the 1925 parade “was bigger than the first one, delivering a spectacle of five bands. Fantastic sights included a 100-foot caterpillar snaking down the city streets, cages of animals from the Central Park Zoo, and an elephant that reportedly said ‘papa.'”

Credit: Macy’s via Business Insider

12. Minnesota Produces the Most Turkeys

According to the US Department of Agriculture, Minnesota produces more turkey than any other state in America. In 2016, Minnesota produced 44.5 million birds , almost exactly 10 million more than the second highest producing state, North Carolina, which produced a whopping 33.5 million birds. The source also notes that turkey meat production in the United States between January and September 2017 surpassed 4.4 billion pounds which is surprisingly down 0.5 percent from the previous year. Now that’s a lot of turkey!

13. Mary Had a Little Lamb Writer is Responsible for Thanksgiving National Holiday

Sarah Josepha Hale was a prominent writer and editor in the 1800s. While many people probably don’t recognize her name, most of us can recite her popular children’s poem “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” originally called “Mary’s Lamb” which she wrote in 1830.

So what does this writer have to do with our national holiday? Even though she didn’t come up with the idea of Thanksgiving, Hale was the one who lobbied state and federal officials to declare it as a recurring national holiday. She believed it would help “ease growing tensions and divisions between the northern and southern parts of the country,” says, and it worked! By 1854 more than 30 states and U.S. territories had a day dedicated to Thanksgiving.


14. Only Male Turkeys Gobble

You’ve probably never put much thought into this one, but from a young age we’re all taught that a turkey goes “wobble, wobble,” which is only partly true. According to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, only the male turkeys make this noise which is why they are referred to as “gobblers.” They “use it to attract females and in response to other males — sometimes one male’s call can lead to a group of others joining in,” says the source. In opposition, a female turkey cackles.

Katherine George

Katherine George

Katherine is the Senior Managing Editor of ActiveBeat and Childhood. She is constantly striving to live a more active and healthy life, from eating healthy, exercising, and just spending more time outdoors. She enjoys cooking (with wine), walking her dog, reading, and recently joined a yoga studio!