Thanksgiving is held in the U.S. on the fourth Thursday of November, and it is traditionally a time to reflect on good fortune and a plentiful harvest. Most Americans celebrate the day by cooking a big feast, eating too much, watching football, and spending some quality time on the couch to sleep off the wine and food buzz, but there is a lot more about this holiday than that. Read on to discover ten interesting and cool facts about Turkey Day!
1The First Thanksgiving Likely Had No Turkey
The first Thanksgiving was a 3-day harvest feast in 1621 attended by the English Protestant settlers (we call them Pilgrims, though they didn't refer to themselves that way) and the native tribe of the Wampanoag near Plymouth, MA. The first feast didn't resemble our modern Thanksgiving dinner at all; it was comprised of venison (deer meat), shellfish, and corn. Though there were plenty of wild turkeys in the area, reports vary about whether or not they were actually consumed at the feast, and most scholars agree that venison was the main course.
2President Abraham Lincoln Made It An Official Holiday
Other Presidents, including George Washington, sometimes issued an annual proclamation establishing a day of giving thanks, but there was no official holiday on record until 1863 when President Lincoln received a letter from a 74-year-old magazine editor named Sarah Josepha Hale. Hale had asked him to have a "day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival." Lincoln responded by writing a Proclamation making the last Thursday of every November a National holiday dedicated to giving thanks for nature's abundance and our individual and national blessings.
3Football Has Been on the Menu Since 1934
There's nothing more American than watching football on Thanksgiving Day! The tradition started in 1934 when the new owner of the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans moved the team to Detroit and decided to compete against the Tigers for their fan base. The Detroit Lions scheduled a game against defending world champions the Chicago Bears, and the game was such a huge success that they decided to do a game on Thanksgiving every year.
There has been a game on Thanksgiving every year except for the period of 1939 to 1944, during World War II.
4Most Popular Parade In North America is Held on Thanksgiving Day
In 1924, Macy's employees marched six miles from Harlem to Herald's Square to kick off the Christmas season. They dressed up as clowns, knights and cowboys and were accompanied by marching bands and live animals from the Central Park Zoo. The event was so successful that they have held a parade every year since and it is now the most popular holiday parade in North America. These days 3.5 million people show up to watch in New York City and 50 million people watch the event from home.
5Thanksgiving Is Celebrated In Space
Astronauts celebrate Thanksgiving, even while living as far from their friends and family as possible on the International Space Station!
According to NASA.gov:
"Expedition 5 NASA ISS Science Officer Peggy Whitson said that her Thanksgiving in space is one that she will always remember. She wrote, "For Thanksgiving, it was a lot like being home, except that we (Station crew) were hosts to our visiting family/friends (STS-113 Shuttle crew). After a challenging day of work, which included the preparations for and the conduct of a space walk with robotic arm support, we celebrated with smoked turkey in foil pouches, rehydrated mash potatoes (unfortunately sans gravy), and rehydrated green beans with mushrooms (better than it might sound)."
6The Night Before Thanksgiving is the Biggest Night of the Year for Bar Sales
Apparently going home for the holidays means meeting up with old friends and family members and heading out to the local bar! The night before Thanksgiving is the biggest night of the year for bar sales, even bigger than New Year's Eve, St. Patrick's Day, and The Super Bowl.
7The President Pardons Two Turkeys Every Year
In 1947 President Truman started the tradition of selecting a turkey and sending it off to a farm somewhere to live out the rest of its life in peace. These days, two turkeys are selected and the people of the United States cast their votes to name them, then the President performs a public pardon.
Last year's turkeys were called Apple and "feathered understudy" Cider, and after being pardoned they were sent to live at Mount Vernon, George Washington's estate in Alexandria, Virginia.
This year Wild Turkey Bourbon has offered to adopt one of the pardoned turkeys to be their official "spokesbird!" No word on whether the White House will accept their offer yet.
8It's Not The Tryptophan That Makes You Sleepy
Turkey contains the essential amino acid L-Tryptophan, which does make you sleepy. However, there's not enough tryptophan in a serving of turkey to cause drowsiness, and in order for tryptophan to really make you sleepy you need to eat it on an empty stomach, and that's certainly going to happen on Thanksgiving!
In reality, you probably get sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner because you eat a lot of food in a short period of time, plus the wine....
945 Million Turkeys Are Consumed Every Thanksgiving
The sheer volume of food consumed in the U.S. every Thanksgiving is staggering. 45 million turkeys are cooked and eaten in the U.S. at Thanksgiving, accounting for one sixth of all turkeys sold in the U.S. each year. Americans are expected to spend almost five billion dollars on turkeys this Thanksgiving.
10The Day After Thanksgiving Is Called "Black Friday"
The day after Thanksgiving is called "Black Friday." The term "Black Friday" originated in 1960 in Philadelphia, a city which had the most malls in the U.S. at the time. The expression started because of the disruptive vehicular and pedestrian foot traffic caused by hoards of shoppers, but retailers later changed the meaning to a more positive connotation about store profits going them out of the red and into the black. This day is considered to be the official kick-off of the holiday shopping season.