You won’t find turkey at the first Thanksgiving!
On the last Thursday of November, Americans will celebrate Thanksgiving. For Americans, this means food, family, friends and football. For non-Americans this means… it’s almost Black Friday? Whether you plan to celebrate or not, in the spirit of expat multi-culturalism, The Finder is sharing some interesting facts about this most beloved holiday.
The first “Thanksgiving” celebration took place in the fall of 1621 in Plymouth Colony (Massachusetts) between European settlers (mostly Pilgrims) and the Wampanoag Indians. The celebration lasted 3 days.
- The warm and fuzzy backstory: the Native Americans helped the settlers learn to farm and grow crops in this unfamiliar land. After a particularly brutal winter – when many settlers died from disease and starvation – they came together to celebrate the harvest (and their lives) with their new friends.
- The less warm and fuzzy backstory: the Pilgrims came to this new land, bringing with them diseases and shockingly little information about how to survive. When they arrived, they claimed the land as their own, even after realizing it was already occupied. They did celebrate their first successful harvest together but soon pushed the natives off the best land, waged war on them and ultimately devastated their entire existence.
More light-hearted facts about Thanksgiving:
- Anywhere from 88 – 91 percent of Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving.
- Turkey was probably not eaten at the first Thanksgiving celebration – it was likely goose or duck or pigeon (yum!). Fish was likely more the centre of the meal with vegetables like corn, carrots and pumpkin also served.
- Thanksgiving didn’t actually become a national holiday until 1863, during the Civil War. Popular legend has it that Sarah Josepha Hale (the author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb”) wrote incessantly to President Lincoln to get him to make it a holiday. Supposedly, 17 letters later, he agreed.
- Now, every year, the President pardons a turkey. Yup, the leader of the free world takes time before his big meal to spare one lucky turkey from being eaten. (The first turkey pardon ceremony was with President Truman in 1947.)
- The chance of being the pardoned poultry are almost as great as winning the lottery. Approximately 254 million turkeys raised in the United States with around 45 million eaten at Thanksgiving (with an additional 22 million carved at Christmas).
- AND they’re not small! The average turkey purchased for Thanksgiving weighs 16 lbs. (7 kilograms)
- According to the Guinness Book of Records, the heaviest turkey on record weighs 86 pounds.
- But it’s not all about the bird. American football is an integral part of Thanksgiving day. Since 1920, the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys have hosted games. In 2006, the marketing geniuses added a third game (with different teams hosting each year).
- So it may not be that surprising that TV dinners are a by-product of Thanksgiving but (surprise!) not because of the football. In 1953, Swanson’s made a 26 ton error (oops!) in calculated the number of frozen turkeys they’d sell. So again, the marketing geniuses came up with a great idea. Wrap ‘em up into individual meals and sell them to tired moms. Dinner, sorted!
- Okay, one more turkey fact…only male turkeys (called Toms – who knew!), gobble. Hens, cackle.
By Kathleen Siddell, November 2015 / Updated November 2019