America’s favorite food holiday has a rich history, steeped in both Pilgrim lore and cranberry sauce. You may think you know the story of that first Thanksgiving and how we came to celebrate it as a country today, but read on for some fun and interesting facts. Who knows, they may even come in handy when your tipsy uncle tries to confront everyone on their political views for the third year running. (Good luck with that!)
1. Benjamin Franklin preferred the National bird be the turkey.
Unlike his fellow Founding Fathers, Ben disagreed with the move to put the Bald Eagle on the National seal, believing the turkey to be a truer representative of the new nation since it was native to the Americas. Eagles, he felt, were lazy bullies who preferred to steal other birds’ prey instead of hunting their own, and didn’t think the a country built on fighting for freedom should champion those values (imagined or not).
(Image Credit: NYC Insider’s Guide)
2. The first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade featured not only floats, but real animals borrowed from Central Park Zoo.
The first balloon featured was of Felix the Cat, and according to newspapers at the time, the balloons released at the end of the first parade in 1924 unexpectedly burst at low altitude. To circumvent this issue next year, they created balloons that would deflate slowly, and sewed patches on them that instructed they be returned via post to Macy’s by whoever found them, for a cash reward.
(Image Credit:Harry S. Truman Library)
3. The Presidential Turkey Pardon started in 1947…or did it?
President Truman kicked off the tradition of receiving a Thanksgiving turkey but evidently never pardoned one during his time in office. The turkey he was presented with by the Poultry Board most likely ended up on his table, as the Truman’s weren’t exactly known as animal lovers. The first turkey wasn’t officially pardoned until Reagan sent “Charlie” off to a petting zoo in 1987.
4. There were no forks at the first Thanksgiving Table!
Forks will still a relatively novel invention in the 18th century, and many of the early American colonists associated their use with the excesses of the British elite that they fought so hard to rid themselves of. Instead, they likely ate with a knife and spoon, or even their hands.
(Image Credit: Butterball)
5. The Turkey Talk-Line hotline from Butterball answers any and all turkey questions each Holiday Season.
Beginning in the 1980s, six brave home economists took on the daunting task of answering over 10,000 calls about how to properly cook a turkey. Since then, the hotline has ramped up to answering over 100,000 calls each season, and now features live chat, text, and even social media support. Visit them here (though, we hope you won’t need to).
6. It didn’t become an official holiday until over 200 years after the first Thanksgiving.
In 1827, noted magazine editor and author Sarah Josepha Hale launched a one-woman campaign to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. Individual states had celebrated Thanksgiving for years, but it was virtually unknown in the South. For over 30 years, she published editorials and sent scores of letters to politicians to hear her cause. Abraham Lincoln finally heeded her request at the height of the Civil War, in an attempt to reunite the nation and start the healing process. Bonus fact: Sarah was also the author of that ever popular nursery rhyme, “Mary Had a Little Lamb”.
(Image Credit: Swanson)
7. TV dinners and Thanksgiving have a lot more in common than you might think.
According to legend, the first TV dinners produced by Swanson were in answer to a problem they had with an unexpected amount of leftover turkey leftovers. And by leftovers, we’re talking hundreds of tons of turkey. So they challenged their workers to come up with ideas, and fast. They ended up packaging turkey, corn bread stuffing, peas and sweet potatoes in the compartmentalized aluminum trays that were being used on airlines, and just like that, the TV dinner was born.
8. Turkey wasn’t actually the centerpiece of the first Thanksgiving table.
While many historians agree that wild turkey did make an appearance at the first Thanksgiving feast, duck and geese were likely the star of the table, and was served along with pigeon, deer, and even eel. And leftover turkey sandwiches? Not a chance – more likely everything was combined into a big pot of leftovers stew to be eaten for days afterward.
(Image Credit: Everett Collection)
9. Big Bird is (mostly) Turkey.
The American Plume & Fancy Feather company is responsible for the famous yellow muppet’s suit, and Big Bird is apparently its toughest customer, according to a source at the company. The costume is comprised from feathers from the rear end of a turkey, which are rarely clean, and Sesame Street rejects nine out of ten feathers.
10. There was no pie at the first Thanksgiving.
We’re sorry to break it to you, but since sugar wasn’t available yet in the new world, that meant that pies were off the menu. Gourds like pumpkins were however available in abundance, so some historians believe they were likely used as a cooking vessel or even roasted whole and enjoyed au naturale. The tradition of serving pumpkin pies gained steam in the 19th century, and today a number of desserts are featured on the Thanksgiving table – including inventive takes like our Pumpkin Cheesecake.
Getting hungry? Us, too! Head on over to our menu to check out some tasty post-holiday eats.