Five Little-Known Thanksgiving Facts

Give thanks and share some Turkey Day knowledge -- when you're not busy eating -- with friends and family.

It’s that special time of year again -- time for football, family and ridiculous amounts of food. Oh, and it’s also the time to give thanks for football, family and food. Especially football.

Once you’ve put away that last bite of turkey and loosened your belt a few notches, I'm sure you'll have a tiny bit of room to ingest some Thanksgiving knowledge:

1. The first Thanksgiving was a harvest feast in Plymouth, Mass. It's widely acknowledged that in 1621, Pilgrims from the Mayflower broke bread with local Native Americans -- the Wampanoag Indians, to be exact. This three-day feast later became known as Thanksgiving. Everyone knows this one, right?

What some folks may not know:

  • The only documentation of that feast comes from two brief passages from the Pilgrim chronicler Edward Winslow.


  • The second Thanksgiving celebration was held in 1623 to mark the end of a long drought.

2. Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a holiday. Lincoln must have loved him some turkey, because in October 1863 he made the fourth Thursday in November a national holiday.

He probably clocks in as America’s second-greatest turkey-lover, right behind Ben Franklin, who tried to make the turkey our national bird. If that had happened, maybe we’d be eating bald eagle every November.

In 1939, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt tried to move Thanksgiving to the third Thursday in November. He hoped the move would help retail sales during the Great Depression -- the start of the tradition? When that didn't fly, he conceded and signed a bill making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday of the month.

But the aforementioned presidents weren’t the only people to have a major impact on Thanksgiving…

3. The author of “Mary had a Little Lamb” helped make Thanksgiving possible. Sarah Josepha Hale, an American writer and editor, campaigned to make Thanksgiving a national holiday for 36 years. Lincoln heeded her request in 1863 (see #2).

And yeah, she also wrote “Mary had a Little Lamb.”

4. In the United States, folks eat around 46 million turkeys each year at Thanksgiving. According to the National Turkey Federation, 244 million turkeys were raised in 2010, and roughly one-fifth of those were eaten in one day -- and possibly in sandwiches over the following few days as well.

Ninety-one percent of Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving Day, and the average weight of a Turkey Day turkey is 15 pounds.

There is hope for a few turkeys, however. Each year -- since the mid-20th century -- the president has “pardoned” one or two Thanksgiving turkeys. The forever-grateful birds are then sent to a farm to live out their days in retirement.

5. The Detroit Lions are as Thanksgiving as cranberry sauce. The first time the Lions played on Thanksgiving Day was in 1934 -- seven years before Congress passed the law that made it a national holiday (before that, the decree came from the president).

Since ’34, there have been only five occasions that the Lions did not play on Thanksgiving. In fact, they’ve been playing on Thanksgiving before games were even televised, which began in 1956.

I’m no Lions fan, but I’ll be watching, and eating, and giving thanks today.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Author’s Note: Information provided by history.com.

Tyler Martin November 25, 2011 at 08:03 PM
I think it has to do with the fact that England's King James I was the primary backer of the Jamestown settlement and the Plymouth settlement was mainly founded on the basis of religious freedom. The motives of protection from persecution, versus colonization and financial gain, fell in line with the idea of America Lincoln was attempting to portray. In addition, Plymouth Rock is symbolic of the settlement. I don't think they literally steered their ship toward it. Thanksgiving could be one of our less rediculous holidays and it is fun to get together with family and friends to eat a good meal. Nothing better than pie for dessert.
Jonathan Gerard November 26, 2011 at 03:10 AM
The biblical story speaks of the "fruit of the tree." It does not name the fruit--which has led to speculation every since. The Latin word for evil is "mallum," which happens also to be the Latin for apple. So the apple came, over time, to be associated with the story. Ages ago I watched Dick Cavett interview Abba Eban, Israel's British born, scholarly, illustrious Foreign Minister. Cavett asked Eban about the fruit, saying "I understand the Bible does not specifically mention "apple." Eban fell right into the trap. Not knowing the Bible so well, he drew on his childhood memory and disagreed with his interlocutor--assuring Cavett that the fruit was, indeed, an apple. (Not!) ;-)
Chauncey Howell November 26, 2011 at 03:28 AM
Apricot! The Fruit of Knowledge had to have been an apricot. There were no apples in the prelapsarian Garden of Eden, which surely must have been in Mesopotamia. Apricots they had! The noble apple had not yet begun its triumphant westward march from its ancestral home, Siberia. The Romans were the ones who really spread the apple around, especially to Brittania, from whence it travelled to our shores, sinless.
Jonathan Gerard November 26, 2011 at 04:46 AM
Willet Thomas November 21, 2012 at 01:45 PM
I'm enjoying reading comments from such learned individuals. Thanks for sharing. Happy Thanksgiving to all.


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