Danielle is a longtime freelance writer who loves holidays and the rich histories associated with them.
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I love getting together with family and loved ones to make new memories, and I certainly enjoy stuffing myself with all the yummy food!
These days, most of us celebrate Thanksgiving with turkey, pumpkin pie, and football, but how did these traditions come about? Have you ever wondered about the origin of Thanksgiving day? Here are 10 fun and educational facts about Thanksgiving that will give you more insight into the origins of the holiday and the traditions associated with it.
10 Thanksgiving Fun Facts
- The first Thanksgiving took place in 1621.
- Every Thanksgiving, the current U.S. president pardons a turkey.
- Macy's has put on a parade every Thanksgiving since 1924.
- Thanksgiving is the biggest travel day of the year.
- The foods eaten for Thanksgiving dinner haven't changed much since 1621.
- Americans eat over 280 million turkeys every Thanksgiving.
- Cranberries are native to North America.
- There is an official Thanksgiving postage stamp.
- The wishbone tradition is much older than Thanksgiving.
- Watching football is an integral part of most Thanksgiving celebrations.
1. The First Thanksgiving Took Place in 1621
Although there are several accounts as to where the first Thanksgiving celebration took place, the most well-known version describes the inaugural Thanksgiving as a three-day pilgrim celebration that took place in 1621 at the Plymouth Colony (now Plymouth, Massachusetts). Most traditional historians recognize this as the first American Thanksgiving feast.
Over 200 years later, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation declaring the last Thursday in November as a day to give thanks. It wasn't until 1941 that congress made Thanksgiving an official national holiday.
2. Every Thanksgiving, the President Pardons a Turkey
Since 1947, a ceremony known as "The National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation" has been conducted at The White House a few days before Thanksgiving. During the ceremony, the current President of the United States is presented with a live turkey. The commander-in-chief does not eat the turkey; instead, he "pardons" the bird and spares it from being slaughtered. After being pardoned, the turkey gets to live out its days on a farm.
3. Macy's Has Put On a Parade Every Thanksgiving Since 1924
The annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade tradition began in 1924 in New York City. The parade was initially known as Macy's Christmas Parade and was created to help spur the beginning of the Christmas shopping season.
The first Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade was put together by Macy's employees and featured animals from the Central Park zoo. These days, giant floating balloons are the parade's primary feature. In the modern era, it is estimated that about 3 million people attend the parade in person each year and that 44 million more watch it on TV from the comfort of their homes. I have watched this parade almost every year of my life—it's one of my favorite Thanksgiving traditions.
4. Thanksgiving Is the Busiest Travel Day Of The Year
Thanksgiving day is the busiest travel day of the year. The American Automobile Association (AAA) has estimated that over 42 million Americans travel 50 miles or more by car over the holiday weekend. Another 4 million people fly to visit their loved ones for the holiday.
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5. Thanksgiving Dinner Hasn't Changed Much Over the Years
The food eaten at the first Thanksgiving feast in 1621 was not too different from our modern standard. The pilgrims' meal consisted of turkey, venison, waterfowl, lobster, fish, clams, pumpkin, squash, berries, and fruit. Aside from the seafood, most of these foods are still staples of our present-day Thanksgiving dinners.
6. Americans Eat a Ton of Turkey
While there is no official reason why turkey is the quintessential main dish used in Thanksgiving dinners, it was likely the most plentiful type of meat in the Plymouth Colony in 1621. We've carried on the tradition of eating turkey for Thanksgiving dinner ever since. According to the National Turkey Federation, over 95% of Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving. Around 280 million turkeys are sold during the weeks leading up to the holiday.
7. Cranberries Are More Than Just a Side Dish
Cranberries are one of only three fruits considered to be native to North America. Native Americans were the first to reap the many benefits of cranberries. In addition to eating them, Indigenous Americans used the red juice from cranberries as a dye for clothing, rugs, and blankets.
They also included cranberries in medicine to treat arrow wounds and other ailments. Native Americans believed in the medicinal use of cranberries long before scientists discovered their health benefits. Nowadays, cranberries are an essential side dish in our Thanksgiving feasts.
8. There Is an Official Thanksgiving Postage Stamp
In 2001, the U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp in honor of the Thanksgiving holiday. The stamp was designed by artist Margaret Cusack to resemble traditional folk-art needlework. The intention behind the stamp's creation was to commemorate the tradition of being thankful for the abundance of goods we enjoy in America.
9. The Wishbone Tradition Is Much Older Than Thanksgiving
Turkeys' wishbones are commonly used in a good-luck tradition on Thanksgiving. Usually, the practice consists of two people tugging on either end of the brittle bone while silently making a wish until it breaks. It is said that whoever wins the larger piece will have their wish granted.
This tradition dates back to the Etruscan civilization circa 322 B.C. The Romans brought the tradition with them when they conquered England, and the English colonists then proceeded to carry the tradition to America.
10. Watching Football Is a Central Part of Most Thanksgiving Celebrations
In the United States, football is a major part of many families' Thanksgiving celebrations. This tradition dates back to the first-ever football game between Yale and Princeton, which was held on Thanksgiving Day in 1876—since then, watching football has become synonymous with Thanksgiving. It's interesting to think that one football game played in 1876 would have such a lasting impact on a seemingly unrelated holiday.
© 2014 Danielle
Hi on July 11, 2020:
I put down one thing
connor on November 27, 2019:
i did not get all of the info
joe on November 25, 2019:
i could only put down two things for a paper on thanksgiving so thanks ig
Max on November 21, 2019:
Yes I don’t like The HOLIDAYS and no one else do
f***you on November 12, 2019:
Hart do you had faun .
joemama on October 22, 2019:
thanks giving id dumb I am a vegan
ok on November 16, 2017:
I think the most meaningful thing about Thanksgiving is that we get to see all of our family all together and we get to know the world actually around us.
hello on November 13, 2017:
Thanksgiving is a time of thanks.
lance on November 14, 2016:
thanksgiving is asowme
Danielle (author) from California on November 21, 2014:
I totally agree. I think it's such a shame that the true meaning of Thanksgiving is practically ignored in this day and age. It's funny because where I live there are actually a lot of turkeys that walk around town and even stop traffic from time to time. It's really quite the sight to see. However, every year at this time they always seem to go into hiding. I think they're onto us :D. Thank you so much for stopping by and reading :D. I really appreciate it and I'm so glad you enjoyed my Hub.
MasterDripper on November 21, 2014:
A great job on Thanksgiving Day...I love the information...Kudos to you for slowing down the growing pace of skipping this great traditional holiday and presenting facts on why it is still important...I still do not know how everyone eats turkey and the bird has not become extinct...cheers