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Thanksgiving Facts to Share with Your Family

Before carving up your family's turkey this year, take the time to learn some of the most interesting Thanksgiving facts we could find.
Young white man taking turkey out of oven

Thanksgiving is a special holiday for many popular reasons—the food, the family, and the football are just a few. Less well known, however, are the many fascinating facts behind the holiday’s history, traditions, and myths. The truth is, for many of us, there’s a lot we don’t know about the holiday we celebrate every fourth Thursday in November. So before carving up your family’s turkey this year, take the time to learn some of the most interesting Thanksgiving facts we could find. At the very least, you’ll have some fun (and harmless) dinner conversation to contribute.

Americans eat 704 million pounds of turkey every Thanksgiving.

According to the National Turkey Federation, around 44 million turkeys were served at Thanksgiving in the United States in 2017. That’s compared to 22 million pounds at Christmas and 19 million at Easter. The average weight of each, meanwhile, was 16 pounds, which means we’re gobbling up 704 million pounds of turkey across the country.

“Jingle Bells” was originally a Thanksgiving song.

“Jingle Bells,” the classic Christmas song written by James Lord Pierpont in 1857, wasn’t meant to be about Christmas. Originally titled “One Horse Open Sleigh,” the ditty was meant to be sung on Thanksgiving. When it was reprinted in 1859, however, the name was changed to “Jingle Bells, or the One Horse Open Sleigh,” and was prescribed for Christmas.

FDR once moved Thanksgiving up a week.

In the midst of the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving up one week in order to allow more time for shopping before Christmas. Otherwise, it would have fallen on Nov. 30. The move spurred intense public reaction, though none as memorable as the stunt pulled by Atlantic City’s then-mayor, C.D. White. In a public statement issued the day before the new Thanksgiving as designated by Roosevelt, White announced that his city would celebrate two days of thanks and that the earlier date would be known as “Franksgiving.”

The first Thanksgiving lasted three days.

The event commonly referred to as the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in October 1621. It was organized by Governor William Bradford of Plymouth, Massachusetts, to celebrate the recent immigrants’ first successful corn harvest in the New World. While the meal lacked much of what is now common Thanksgiving fare—there’s no record of turkey being served, for example—there were at least five deer carcasses present, and the event lasted a full three days.

About 50 million people watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade annually.

Approximately 50 million Americans tune in to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade each year. Another 3.5 million people view it in person, and roughly 10,000 participate—in non-pandemic years, at least. And though the parade doesn’t begin until 9 a.m. ET, many spectators arrive as early as 6:30 a.m.—lining the streets of  New York—to get a spot along the route.

More people travel to Orlando, Florida than anywhere else on Thanksgiving.

According to estimates by AAA, over 55 million Americans traveled 50 miles or more for Thanksgiving in 2019. The most popular of these destinations—according to booking info—were Orlando, Florida, closely followed Anaheim, California, then New York City. No doubt, 2020 traffic patterns will look quite different as the pandemic has people sheltering in place, but these locations will likely be just as popular in 2021.

More than four-fifths of Americans prefer the leftovers to the meal.

According to a 2015 Harris Poll, a large majority of Americans (81 percent) prefer the leftovers of the Thanksgiving meal to the meal itself. Another finding: Millennials look forward to the turkey portion of the meal less than any other age group.

One Connecticut town delayed Thanksgiving because of a pumpkin pie shortage.

Well, sort of. Pumpkin pies were mostly popular as a Thanksgiving dessert in New England early in the 18th century, becoming more synonymous with the holiday across the country in the early 20th. But according to History, the town of Colchester in Connecticut agreed to hold the holiday a week when a molasses shortage threatened their ability to make the gourd-based sweet.

Turkeys are named after the country—the result of confusion about birds.

During the time of the Ottoman Empire, guinea fowl—birds that closely resemble turkeys—were often imported from their native North Africa to Europe, to be eaten. Because Europeans received them from Turkish traders, they referred to them as turkey-hens or turkey-cocks. When settlers from the Americas began sending what we call turkeys back to their European counterparts, the latter—confused by the resemblance—began referring to them by the same name. Thus, we have turkeys!

Thanksgiving is the most popular day in the U.S. for racing.

Runners World reports that Thanksgiving has been the most popular holiday to race for much of the 2010s. “In recent years, Turkey Trots have become as synonymous with Thanksgiving as the turkey itself,” says Michael Schiferl, EVP of Integrated Media at Weber Shandwick. “In fact, more than one million people participate in upwards of 1,300 races in the United States annually—making Thanksgiving the largest race day of the entire year.”

Sixty percent of Americans would rather do anything other than think about what they’re grateful for on Thanksgiving.

As Amy Morin, LCSW, wrote for Psychology Today, 71 percent of Americans report feeling stress during the holiday season beginning on Thanksgiving. In addition, three in five respondents reported preferring to do something other than think about what they’re grateful for during Thanksgiving, including such activities watching football, reading a book, or playing with a pet. Twelve percent of Americans even stated that they’d rather spend time on their smartphones than have a meaningful conversation with their family. But here’s why it’s time to change that…


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