As a very American holiday only really celebrated by Brits that happen to have grown up in the states or have friends or family that are American, Thanksgiving is more a curiosity to us than really anything else, and most of our understanding of the day comes from watching repeats of Friends’ Thanksgiving-themed episodes or wondering why Steve Martin is so anxious to get home to his family on the fourth Thursday of November, when if it were us we’d just be savouring every plane, train, and automobile journey with the late, great John Candy.
Although the majority of British people will hopefully be aware of the terrible and truly horrifying history of the holiday –after all, the only reason pilgrims could even settle in Plymouth was because the native Wampanoag people had virtually been wiped out by a plague European settlers had brought years before (and this isn’t even mentioning the years of conflict that took place afterwards resulting in the deaths of millions of native people) – we’ve created a list of our favourite 10 Thanksgiving facts you probably won’t be aware of.
Turkey most likely wasn’t even eaten at the first Thanksgiving
Although it’s the bird most associated with the holiday (who can forget Pugsley Addams dressed up as this iconic festive animal in Addams Family Values’ infamous “First Thanksgiving Day” performance at summer camp?), you’d have been far more likely to tuck into the likes of swan, lobster, or seal at the first Thanksgiving back in 1621. Although historians aren’t one hundred percent clear as to what was eaten at this event, it is known that the Wampanoag people brought five deer to the table, so to truly stay with tradition, you might want to trade your turkey for venison next year. Other meats served most likely included duck, geese, oysters and fish. Traditional Thanksgiving foods cranberries and pumpkins were, however, almost certainly present at the event – but no cranberry relish or pumpkin pies.
Speaking of turkeys…
Americans eat 46 million turkeys every Thanksgiving
The National Turkey Federation surveyed Americans on their turkey-eating habits and found that 88% of them said they eat the bird on the big day. As a nation, America eats more than double the amount of turkey on Thanksgiving than at Christmas or Easter – 22 million turkeys are eaten at Christmas and 19 million turkeys at Easter.
Troops and civilians stationed overseas will also tuck into 34,760 pounds of turkey this Thanksgiving, along with 32,550 pounds of beef, 21,450 pounds of ham, 28,980 pounds of shrimp, 9,114 pounds of stuffing and 879 gallons of eggnog.
Shockingly, the typical Thanksgiving meal, including appetisers, drinks, and desserts, will total in at around 4,500 calories – that’s more than double your daily recommended intake in just one meal – might what to skip breakfast?
America’s national bird could have been the turkey – not the eagle
In a letter Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, wrote to his daughter, he stated “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 he never had his wish granted, considering the amount of turkeys Americans eat their way through every holiday season (not to mention the rest of the year), it’s probably the least they could do to honour the bird.
Speaking of things America does to honour at least one bird…
The first turkey pardoned by the president was in 1989, and since then the turkey has gone on to do some incredible things.
After noticing the 50-pound turkey at his official Thanksgiving proclamation was looking a little nervous – and who could blame it – President George H.W. Bush pardoned the very first turkey in 1989 and since that day, every president has upheld this tradition.
In 2005 and 2009, after being pardoned by the president, the turkeys got the honour of going to Disneyland and Walt Disney World parks to serve as grand marshal in their annual Thanksgiving parades.
Speaking of parades…
The first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade didn’t feature the traditional character balloons for which it is famous for around the world today – but instead featured animals from Central Park Zoo.
Kicking off New York City’s holiday shopping season and originally called the “Macy’s Christmas Parade”, the first parade held in 1924 included a menagerie of circus mainstays from Central Park Zoo, including elephants, bears, camels, and monkeys, instead of the much more animal-friendly balloons flown through the city today.
The animal that has the honour of making the most appearances at a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade isn’t a turkey, but a beagle. In 1968, fourty-four years after the first parade in 1924, Snoopy made his debut as a balloon, making a total of 39 appearances on and off until 2015, before being replaced with Charlie Brown in 2016. A total of seven separate Snoopy balloons were made since 1968.
The writer of “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, Sarah Josepha Hale, is responsible for Thanksgiving being recognised as a national holiday.
Sarah Josepha Hale, an American writer and influential editor born in 1788 and most famous for writing the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, convinced President Abraham Lincoln to officially declare Thanksgiving as a national holiday. The founder of the American Ladies Magazine, a publication that promoted women’s issues long before suffrage, Hale wrote countless articles and sent many letters to Lincoln to persuade the president to recognise the holiday federally, believing this could help to unify the Northern and Southern states. Even after the Civil War broke out, Hale kept writing to the president, and Lincoln finally wrote the proclamation a week after her last letter to him in 1863.
Speaking of world-known rhymes linked to the holidays…
Jingle Bells was originally a Thanksgiving song
One of the world’s most famous Christmas songs, originally called “One Horse Open Sleigh” when it was written in the autumn of 1857 by James Lord Pierpont, was in fact intended to be a Thanksgiving Day song. Although the lyrics “dashing through the snow, in a one-horse open sleigh, over the fields we go, laughing all the way” make me envision riding along with Santa Claus in his sleigh (although surely he’d be riding a 9-reindeer open sleigh?), the song in fact has no connection to Christmas but became so popular around December 25th that the title was changed to “Jingle Bells” in 1859.
“Jingle Bells” was even the very first song broadcast from space in a Christmas-themed prank by Gemini 6 astronauts Tom Stafford and Wally Schirra while in space on December 16th 1965.
In a report to Mission Control, the astronauts said:
Gemini VII, this is Gemini VI. We have an object, looks like a satellite going from north to south, up in a polar orbit. He’s in a very low trajectory traveling from north to south and has a very high climbing ratio. It looks like it might even be a … Very low. Looks like he might be going to reenter soon. Stand by one … You might just let me try to pick up that thing.
They then produced a harmonica and sleigh bells which they managed to smuggle onboard and performed a rendition of “Jingle Bells”.
Americans work their way through an estimated 50 million pumpkin pies each and every Thanksgiving.
Despite eating around 4 million more pumpkin pies than turkeys at Thanksgiving every year, pumpkin pies aren’t even the most popular pie consumed on the holiday – in fact, it’s only the second (or third) most popular pie behind apple pies (no real surprise there). In some surveys, the pumpkin pie even falls behind strawberry pies.
Forget Black Friday, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, otherwise known as “Drinksgiving”, is the most fun Thanksgiving-adjacent day.
In America, the night before Thanksgiving has come to be known as the booziest day of the year, with reuniting families and friends, and co-workers dreading the holidays, hitting up the bars and raising toasts to the holiday. “Drinksgiving”, also known by the name “Black Wednesday”, is also one of the most profitable nights of the year for car-services, as taxis traffic inebriated people home to sleep off the booze before a day of making polite and, hopefully sober, small-talk with elderly relatives you only see once a year.
The day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, is the busiest day of the year for plumbers.
As could probably be predicted by the amount of food that is consumed on Thanksgiving and the amount of houseguests Americans have over, garbage disposals, kitchen drains, and, of course toilets (4,500 calories has to go somewhere) require more assistance by plumbers the day after Thanksgiving than on any other day of the year.