Thanksgiving Day is made up of three activities: spending time with family, flipping back and forth between football games and the iconic Macy’s parade, and eating an extravagant feast. But there’s only so much to catch up on with loved ones, and after you’ve dodged all their awkward questions about your life’s hopes and dreams (and lack of a significant other), what else is there to talk about? Sure, you can rehash the same old stories and family drama, but we think there’s no better way to keep the conversation flowing—and blow some minds—than with Thanksgiving Day facts. Whether you turn them into a festive and competitive game of Thanksgiving trivia or just use them to school your relatives, some of these Thanksgiving facts might just blow your mind.
Thanksgiving itself is a blend of facts, fiction, and myths: Some of the so-called origins of our traditions lack evidence, while many parts of the holiday are purely commercial. We barely even know what happened at the first Thanksgiving! (Although we do know there wasn’t even any turkey—read on to find out what they served instead.) Learn more fun facts about Thanksgiving as we know and love it, from its origins to how we celebrate it today.
The first Turkey Trot dates back to the 1890s.
Buffalo, New York, was the first city to host a Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning in 1896. Only six runners participated in the race that year, running on stretches of dirt road for roughly five miles.
Thanksgiving was originally celebrated in mid-October.
The first Thanksgiving celebration wasn’t in November at all. In fact, some historians suggest it was held in mid-October, similar to the present-day Canadian Thanksgiving. It was President Lincoln who set the November date in order to coincide with the Pilgrims’ landing on Plymouth Rock.
Pumpkin pie isn’t actually Thanksgiving’s favorite pie.
The dessert has been an important part of Thanksgiving meals since the 1700s. However, The American Pie Council is putting an end to the pumpkin vs. apple pie debate. According to its research, apple pies are America’s favorite, with pumpkin coming in second place.
Female turkeys don’t gobble.
Only male turkeys make the well-known “gobble, gobble” sound that has come to be associated with the holiday. In fact, male turkeys are even known as “gobblers.” Females make other noises, such as purring and cackling.
The first Thanksgiving was actually a three-day festival.
The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 as a harvest festival. It included 50 Pilgrims, 90 Wampanoag Indians, and lasted three days. Historians believe that only five women were present.
The tradition of football on Thanksgiving was started by college teams.
The tradition of football on Thanksgiving began in 1876 with a game between Yale and Princeton. The first NFL games were played on Thanksgiving in 1920 (more on that game in a minute).
Historians have no record of turkey being eaten at the first Thanksgiving.
The first Thanksgiving Day feast happened in 1621 with three whole days dedicated to the celebration. Although turkey was plentiful in the region and a common food source, it’s likely that it wasn’t actually the star of the festivities and other “fowling” were served for the occasion. Instead, “ducks, geese, and swans” are believed to have been served to the English settlers and Native Americans.
Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be the national bird.
In a letter to his daughter, Benjamin Franklin wrote, “For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country…For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird.” Although Franklin didn’t get his wish, his letter did inspire a song in the Tony-winning musical 1776, about the drafting of the Declaration of Independence.
The first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade featured Central Park Zoo animals.
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was originally called the “Macy’s Christmas Parade” to kick off the holiday shopping season. Held in 1924, the first parade included monkeys, bears, camels, and elephants borrowed from the Central Park Zoo instead of the traditional character balloons we know today.
Snoopy has made the most appearances of any balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Forty-four years after the first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Snoopy made his debut as a balloon in 1968. Throughout the years, the beagle has been represented by a total of seven balloons, making 39 appearances “on and off through 2015” before he was replaced by Charlie Brown in 2016. He returned as an astronaut for the 2019 parade, bringing his balloon total to eight.
Sarah Josepha Hale was actually the “Mother of Thanksgiving.”
Famous for writing “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” Sarah Josepha Hale was a 19th-century writer and editor who was nicknamed the Mother (or Godmother) of Thanksgiving. The name seemed fitting after she wrote a letter to President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward in 1863 calling for the declaration of Thanksgiving as a national holiday. Her hope was that the holiday would help the nation heal from the trauma of the Civil War.
The first professional Thanksgiving Day football game was played in 1920.
More than a century ago, when Thanksgiving Day fell on November 25, six football games took place, according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Non-league teams like the Elyria Athletics went up against league teams in games that counted in the standings. Football fans, whip these stats out from the results of that year’s games, and you will WIN at table talk:
Thanksgiving was once celebrated on the third Thursday in November.
Decades after President Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday, President Roosevelt decided to mix things up by moving it up a week, to the second to last Thursday in November, in 1939. By doing this, he added seven shopping days to the holiday season, but the change upset football coaches whose weekend Thanksgiving games were switched to regular weekday games. It also messed up printed calendars for years. After much consternation, Thanksgiving returned to the last Thursday in November in 1942 and has been held then ever since.
“Jingle Bells” was originally a Thanksgiving Day song.
Before becoming a Christmas holiday anthem, “Jingle Bells” was an 1857 song titled “One Horse Open Sleigh,” and its composer, James Pierpont, intended it to be a Thanksgiving Day song. But it became so popular around December 25 that in 1859 the title was changed to “Jingle Bells”—and the rest is history!
Butterball has had a Turkey Talk-Line for nearly 40 years.
If you find yourself with a million questions about cooking your turkey and Google is too overwhelming, reach for the phone because the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line is real and there to help you. Open to U.S. and Canadian homes every November and December, the unique hotline, which first opened in 1981, is also available to take questions via online chat and email. Plus, there are Spanish-speaking experts! Each year, Butterball experts answer more than 100,000 questions for thousands of households.
Each year, about 46 million turkeys are cooked.
Thanksgiving Day and turkey go hand-in-hand, so this number shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. Although not all Americans celebrate the holiday or eat turkey, there are still millions of families gathering around the table to partake in one of the most special meals of the year—and for those who aren’t satisfied with only one day of it, Christmas is also a popular occasion to cook another turkey.
The turkey’s tryptophan doesn’t actually make you tired.
On Thanksgiving Day, you probably expect to be tired after eating turkey, thanks to claims made about the amino acid tryptophan. But the holiday bird isn’t actually to blame. The reason you can’t imagine doing anything else but watching football on the couch is just because you overate. “After you’ve had a big meal, your body goes into basically shutdown mode, and sleep gets promoted,” Dr. Daniel Barone explained to Business Insider, saying that the phenomenon is called “postprandial fatigue.”
The majority of Americans secretly dislike classic Thanksgiving dishes but eat them anyway.
A whopping 68 percent of Americans dislike Thanksgiving dishes like canned cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and even turkey itself, according to a 2019 Instacart survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults conducted online by the Harris Poll—but they’ll still eat them in honor of tradition. Times are changing, however: Thirty percent of Thanksgiving dinner hosts have served something other than turkey as their main course (pork is the second most popular option).
Many people enjoy Thanksgiving leftovers more than the meal itself.
The atmosphere on Thanksgiving Day is unlike any other: The kitchen bustling with last-minute cooking, the dining table is set with the best china, and a football game is playing on the TV. But according to a 2015 poll by the Harris Poll, people actually enjoy leftovers more than the actual meal. So confidently eat your leftover stuffing and mashed potatoes, because you won’t be the only one doing so.
Thanksgiving leftovers led to the invention of iconic TV dinners.
Well, sort of. In 1953, an overzealous Swanson employee overestimated the number of frozen turkeys the company should order for Thanksgiving—and the company was left with 260 tons of extra turkey after the holiday. But rather than eat the loss (financially, we mean), salesman Gerry Thomas came up with the brilliant idea to create and sell individual turkey dinners complete with cornbread dressing, gravy, peas, and sweet potatoes on reheatable trays, just like airline meals. Each premade feast cost a grand total of 98 cents. By the end of 1954, Swanson had sold 10 million frozen turkey meals, and the TV dinner industry was born.
President George H. W. Bush was the first to pardon a turkey.
In 1989, the 41st president pardoned the first turkey—that is, assured the bird that it would never become somebody’s dinner—after noticing the 50-pound bird looked a little antsy at his official Thanksgiving proclamation. Since then, every president has upheld the tradition, and a few of the turkeys have gone on to serve a different purpose. In 2005 and 2009, the birds went to Disneyland and Disney World parks to participate in their annual Thanksgiving parades.
President Calvin Coolidge was the first to pardon a raccoon in relation to Thanksgiving.
Yes, you read that right! In November 1926, President Calvin Coolidge was gifted a live raccoon intended to be his Thanksgiving dinner. He wasn’t super into the idea of eating a raccoon, so he decided to keep it as a pet instead. This wasn’t unusual, as the president and First Lady Grace Coolidge were known to be animal lovers. They were often randomly sent pets—including unconventional ones, like a bear and lion cubs.
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is known as “Drinksgiving.”
The holiday season is a time of celebration, which means toasts upon toasts are made. Before the annual feast even begins, there’s the night before Thanksgiving—which has come to be known as one of the booziest days of the year. It’s even dubbed “Black Wednesday” in some places. Bars aren’t the only businesses that experience a boom on the eve of Thanksgiving; Uber has even offered free rides on that night over the past few years.
Black Friday, aka the day after Thanksgiving, is the busiest day for plumbers.
Sure, it’s a big day for shoppers—but don’t forget the drainage professionals. Plumbing and drainage companies don’t really get the Friday after Thanksgiving off since it’s one of their busiest days of the year. (Why? We think you can imagine.) In fact, the day is so busy for these services that Roto-Rooter Plumbing and Water Cleaning company actually calls it “Brown Friday.”
The turkey bird is actually linked to the country of Turkey.
If you’ve ever wondered which came first, the bird or the
November 23, 2023