Nine Fun Facts About Thanksgiving
- The first Thanksgiving was actually a three-day affair.
Today, Thanksgiving takes place over one decadent day — maybe two if you count Black Friday. But the original Pilgrims really went all out. In November 1621, the settlers' first corn harvest proved so successful, Governor William Bradford reportedly invited the Plymouth colonists' Native American allies to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Members of the Wampanoag tribe came bearing food to share. They had so much bounty, the revelers decided to extend the affair.
- Colonists and Native Americans may not have had turkey at their feast.
While most of us enjoy turkey as the centerpiece of our table, no one can say for sure whether it was even on the menu back in 1621. However, they did indulge in other foods like lobster, seal, and swan. The Wampanoag also reportedly brought five deer to the celebration. If you also enjoy venison at your table, consider yourselves perfectly aligned with a longstanding tradition.
- Part of Plymouth, Mass., looks just as it did in the 17th century.
If you want to see what Thanksgiving was really like back in the 1600s, the historic attraction Plymouth (or Plimoth) Plantation stays true to its historic roots. You can even celebrate Thanksgiving at the site, which is modeled after a colonist's home and a Wampanoag site. Guests can order tickets as early as June (or May for members) to attend a Thanksgiving dinner. The table-groaning feast features authentic courses like a corn pudding and fish fricassee, tales of colonial life, and old-timey songs. You can't help but join in!
- Thomas Jefferson refused to declare Thanksgiving a holiday.
Presidents originally had to declare Thanksgiving a holiday every year, up until Lincoln made it a national holiday during his tenure. However, Jefferson refused to recognize the event, because he believed so firmly in the separation of church and state. Since Thanksgiving involved prayer and reflection, he thought designating it a national holiday would violate the First Amendment. He also thought it was better suited as a state holiday, not a federal one.
- The woman behind "Mary Had a Little Lamb" is also responsible for Thanksgiving's recognition as a national holiday.
Writer and editor Sarah Josepha Hale convinced President Abraham Lincoln to officially declare Thanksgiving a national holiday, after three decades of persistent lobbying. The author also founded the American Ladies Magazine, which promoted women's issues long before suffrage. She wrote countless articles and letters, advocating for Thanksgiving to help unify the Northern and Southern states amid gathering divisions. Hale kept at it, even after the Civil War broke out, and Lincoln actually wrote the proclamation just a week after her last letter in 1863, earning her the name the Mother of Thanksgiving.
- The first Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade didn't feature any balloons.
If you can't imagine the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade without giant floats featuring your favorite characters, you'd barely recognize the first parade in the early 1920s. It did have puppets riding the iconic floats, as well as singers and celebrities and of course, Santa Claus. That said, when the Thanksgiving parade made its big debut in 1924, it did have something that might be even crazier than balloons: animals from the Central Park Zoo.
- We have a Good Housekeeping illustrator to thank for the parade's first balloons.
German American illustrator Tony Starg, whose illustrations were featured in Good Housekeeping, also had a passion for puppetry. He used that talent to make some amazing floats come to life in 1927.
- In 1939, Thanksgiving was celebrated on the third Thursday in November — not the fourth.
You might think President Roosevelt could predict the future, as he channeled a "Black Friday" mindset when he decided to move Thanksgiving during his presidency. Even though the holiday had been celebrated on the fourth Thursday since Lincoln officially recognized the federal holiday decades before, Roosevelt bumped it up a week, and effectively added seven more shopping days to the holiday season to boost the economy. That angered football coaches who had Thanksgiving games already scheduled and calendar-printers who now had incorrect dates. Americans, to say the least, didn't love the change, so it was officially switched back in 1942.
- A Thanksgiving mix-up inspired the first TV dinners.
In 1953, a Swanson employee accidentally ordered a colossal shipment of Thanksgiving turkeys (260 tons, to be exact). To deal with the excess, salesman Gerry Thomas took inspiration from the prepared foods served on airplanes. He came up with the idea of filling 5,000 aluminum trays with the turkey – along with cornbread dressing, gravy, peas, and sweet potatoes to complete the offering. The 98-cents meals were a hit, especially with kids and increasingly busy households.