Thanksgiving is one of the oldest traditions in the American calendar, celebrating diversity, all the great things we have to be thankful for and the human body’s ability to deal with eating a whole lot of food at once without blowing up like Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
The origins of Thanksgiving are well-documented; so well documented, in fact, that even a dude like me who flunked history so bad that I can’t even remember what happened last week knows what happened. In 1621, pilgrims and Native Americans in Plymouth (which is now in Massachusetts) came together for a mega-feast celebrating the pilgrims’ first harvest – the rest, as they say, is history.
That is only part of the Thanksgiving story, however. Here are some weird facts you might not know about America’s greatest holiday (after Christmas and Halloween).
The first Thanksgiving lasted three whole days
Thanksgiving, as everyone knows, consists of one solitary day of eating way too much and watching football in between naps. In 1621, however, Thanksgiving consisted of a titanic three day feast mixed in with dancing and games. They sure must have loved their food; imagine how much longer the feast would have been if they’d discovered Twinkies back then!
You might imagine that a three day feast of turkey would have left America’s poultry population trembling in fear, but…
There might not have been any turkey at the first Thanksgiving
Yep, no turkey! Even though the Plymouth feast’s history is repeated on a regular basis, it was actually pretty poorly documented and there ain’t actually that much certain about what happened on that day. All we do know is that the feast included ‘wild fowl’, which could technically have been turkey…but could also have been goose, duck or even swan!
One thing we do know for sure, however, is that…
Children drank beer at the first Thanksgiving
The Pilgrims were a pretty hardy bunch and after years of travelling, they’d realised the beer they brewed was usually safer to drink than water. This meant that every pilgrim drank beer, including the children! So, when you’re trying to form a mental picture of the first Thanksgiving, just picture a Miley Cyrus video…but with more pilgrim costumes.
This little factoid also explains why bars experience their best sales of the year on the night before Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving wasn’t supposed to have food
Thanksgiving without food is like Christmas without presents, but unbelievably, the holiday wasn’t actually supposed to involve food; no turkey, no pumpkin pie, no nothing.
This is because the pilgrims were highly religious and believed the best way to give thanks was to pray and fast. Luckily, their Native American friends in the Wampanoag tribe saw things a little differently – the Nickommah festival they celebrated involved lots of food, dancing and games. The two merged, and a tradition was born.
The writer of ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’ is responsible for Thanksgiving as we know it
Even though the ‘first’ Thanksgiving took place way back in 1621, the first ‘official’ Thanksgiving was in 1863, when Abraham Lincoln declared it a national holiday.
It wasn’t Honest Abe’s idea, though. That honor belongs to Sarah Josepha Hale, an author who campaigned long and hard for Thanksgiving to be recognised as a public holiday. Before that, Hale had another claim to fame – she wrote the timeless nursery rhyme ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’ in 1830, making her responsible for putting kids to sleep with song and adults to sleep with copious amounts of poultry.
Benjamin Franklin loved turkeys
Benjamin Franklin was apparently a big fan of Thanksgiving, throwing his full support behind the holiday even though fellow founding father Thomas Jefferson thought the holiday was stupid.
Part of this might have been to do with the fact that Benjamin Franklin was a big, big fan of turkey, and not just of eating it either. When the Bald Eagle was adopted as the national bird of America (by way of appearing on the Grand Seal), Ben was less than pleased. He had this to say in a letter to his daughter:
“I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a bird of bad moral character. He does not get his living honestly.”
There are no prizes for guessing which animal Ben suggested as an alternative…
“…the Turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original Native of America…He is besides, thought a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage.”
So there you have it – if Benjamin Franklin had his way, the national bird of America would have been a turkey…
Thanksgiving was responsible for the first TV Dinner
Depending on who you ask, the TV dinner (or a ready meal, if you prefer) is either one of America’s best or worst inventions. Interestingly though, the easiest meal in the world to cook (even I can do it) was actually borne out of the hardest meal in the world to cook.
Back in 1953, the Swanson food company ordered a heck of a lot of turkey to sell at Thanksgiving. So much, in fact, that they couldn’t actually sell it.
Fortunately, Swanson were pretty enterprising and knew that the quickest way to a man’s stomach is to appeal to his laziness. Taking the turkey they had left, Swanson developed a Thanksgiving meal on a tray. The meal took 25 minutes to cook, could be eaten in front of the TV and was…well, not that good actually. That didn’t stop over 10million dinners being sold in the first year of production though!
Americans eat 46 million turkeys at Thanksgiving
That works out to roughly equivalent with the population of Spain and about 3lbs of turkey for every American who eats turkey at Thanksgiving. No wonder everyone gets so tired afterwards!