10 Facts You Probably Didn't Know About Thanksgiving

Updated on December 9, 2019
Chris Samhain profile image

National holidays in the United States are often taken for granted. I want to help change that and provide legitimate information to others.

Thanksgiving is such a popular holiday that most of us take it for granted. But how much do you really know about Turkey Day and its history?
Thanksgiving is such a popular holiday that most of us take it for granted. But how much do you really know about Turkey Day and its history? | Source

How Much Do You Know About Thanksgiving?

There are always interesting little tidbits about historic people and events that the bulk of the general public does not know. Let's take a look at Thanksgiving and have a little fun. Read through these Thanksgiving-themed facts and see how many you are familiar with. We'll begin at number 10 with the least obscure fact on this list and work our way down to number 1—the most obscure. Let's see how much you know about Thanksgiving!

10. The Pilgrims Did Not Eat Pie and Cranberry Sauce

At the beginning of the Mayflower's trip to the New World, it had to turn back because its companion ship, the Speedwell, sprung a leak . . . twice. The first time this happened, the Speedwell returned to port for repairs, and the second time, the vessel was left behind and all of her passengers boarded the Mayflower. While at sea, the Mayflower's crew actually had to make structural repairs to the ship try to make up for its lagging time table. All of these setbacks hurt the voyage from the beginning.

During the winter of 1620, the passengers of the Mayflower actually lived on the ship, which was anchored in the harbor of Cape Cod. The passengers did not have any means to restock their larder, and they also had no one to trade with. They ran out of many supplies, including sugar and butter. The colonists also did not have any cows with them, so they also couldn't make their own milk and butter.

Because of their dire situation, the colonists could not have had cranberry sauce. While there were cranberries in the area, the Mayflower's passengers had no sugar to make the sauce with. Since they had no butter or wheat flour either, they could not have made the crusts necessary to create pies.

9. The Pilgrims Lived in the Netherlands for a Decade

While the pilgrims did travel from England to Plymouth, they did not do so directly. They actually left England 11 years prior to their arrival in North America and lived in Holland (the Netherlands) for most of the intervening time. They stayed in Amsterdam for a brief period, then moved to the city of Leiden.

During those 11 years, the pilgrims' elders believed that they would lose control over their children who they feared would eventually start to follow the customs of the Dutch. Because of this fear, they eventually sought to resettle to the New World in a more remote location farther away from the Spanish. Thus came about the group's agreement with the Virginia Company of London, Thomas Welton, and the Merchant Adventurers to relocate to the New World just north of Jamestown. Because of weather and navigation, the group actually landed a ways northeast of their intended destination.

The association between Thanksgiving and football dates back to 1876, when Yale and Princeton played their first Thanksgiving game.
The association between Thanksgiving and football dates back to 1876, when Yale and Princeton played their first Thanksgiving game.

8. Football Has Been Played on Thanksgiving Since 1876

Since 1876, football has been played on Thanksgiving. Yale and Princeton, who have played each other annually since 1873, faced off for their first holiday game on Thanksgiving Day, 1876. They've been doing so ever since, and the current leader of this match-up is Yale with a 78–54–10 record.

When the National Football League (NFL) was founded in 1920, there were six games played on Thanksgiving:

  • Canton Bulldogs (0) vs. Akron Pros (7)
  • Decatur Staleys (6) vs. Chicago Tigers (0)
  • Detroit Heralds (0) vs. Dayton Triangles (28)
  • Columbus Panhandles (0) vs. Elyria Athletics (0)
  • Hammond Pros (0) vs. Chicago Boosters (27)
  • All-Tonawanda Lumberjacks (14) vs. Rochester Rockets (3)

The Detroit Lions have played on Thanksgiving since their move from Portsmouth, Ohio in 1934, which coincided with their name change from the Spartans to the Lions. Their marketing and timing were fantastic—they filled their stadium and even had to turn fans away. Even though they lost that game to the Chicago Bears, they have continued to play on Thanksgiving every year since then.

The Dallas Cowboys have only missed two Thanksgivings since they beat the Cleveland Browns 26–14 in 1966. The league didn't think the game would have a good turnout, but the team beat its attendance record with over 80,000 fans in the stadium.

7. The Speedwell May Have Been Damaged Purposefully

The Speedwell was the second ship that was supposed to transport passengers, including the Pilgrims, to the New World. The two leaks that were sustained (mentioned earlier in this article) are suspected to have been caused by the captain so he could get out of crossing the Atlantic Ocean and proceed with more profitable endeavors. If this was his intention, he was successful—records show that the Speedwell did, in fact, carry goods and do business in a profitable manner after the ship failed to make the voyage to the New World with the Mayflower.

When the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade—then known as the Macy's Christmas Parade—first began, it featured real animals from the Central Park Zoo instead of large balloons.
When the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade—then known as the Macy's Christmas Parade—first began, it featured real animals from the Central Park Zoo instead of large balloons.

6. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Began as a Christmas Event

The first Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade occurred in 1914. At that time, the giant balloons that the event is now famous for were not yet incorporated. Initially, the parade consisted of floats, Macy's employees dressed in flamboyant and vivid colors, and live animals borrowed from the Central Park Zoo. Oh, and it wasn't called the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade—it was called the Macy’s Christmas Parade until 1927 when the name was changed to what it is now.

5. It Took Over Two Centuries for Thanksgiving to Become a National Holiday

Thanksgiving was not an official holiday until 202 years after the pilgrims and the Wampanoag had their three-day celebration in October of 1621. Thanksgiving was only celebrated in an official capacity if the current president declared it on any given year. Thomas Jefferson was the first president who outright refused to celebrate Thanksgiving. Rumor has it that he despised Thanksgiving, but in truth, he did not want to make it a national celebration because he did not want to mix church and government.

It wasn't until 1863 that President Lincoln declared Thanksgiving an official federal holiday to be celebrated each year. Most historians give credit to Sarah Josepha Hale, a remarkable woman and well-known writer of "Mary Had a Little Lamb." In addition to her other accomplishments, she wrote to the office of the president for 17 years straight petitioning for Thanksgiving to be made into a federal holiday. Lincoln was the first to acquiesce to her request; approximately one week after her letter arrived on his desk, Thanksgiving was made a recurring national holiday.

4. The TV Dinner Was Created Because of Thanksgiving

One year, Swanson, a prominent meat company, had too much turkey leftover from the Thanksgiving season—260 tons to be accurate. Luckily, one of their salesmen was an outside-the-box thinker and came up with the idea of putting sliced turkey on aluminum trays with other sides to be frozen and eaten at a later date. In the wake of Thanksgiving 1953, Swanson sliced and packaged their extra 260 tons of turkey, and the TV dinner was born.

Lincoln may have been the president who made Thanksgiving an official holiday, but Roosevelt was the only one who ever changed its date.
Lincoln may have been the president who made Thanksgiving an official holiday, but Roosevelt was the only one who ever changed its date.

3. Thanksgiving Was Moved During the Great Depression

During the Great Depression, an attempt was made to boost America's economy by moving Thanksgiving forward a week. President Franklin Roosevelt thought that by moving Thanksgiving from the last Thursday of November to the second-to-last Thursday of November, the Christmas shopping season would be extended, and higher sales would stimulate the country's failing economy.

What actually happened was that almost every state still held Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November. Three states—Colorado, Mississippi, and Texas—actually had two Thanksgivings. The public did not like this change and termed the earlier celebration "Franksgiving." Two years later, Congress changed the date back to the final Thursday in November.

2. "Jingle Bells" Was Originally a Thanksgiving Song

The original "Jingle Bells" song, written by James Pierpoint in 1857, was actually titled "One Horse Open Sleigh." This soon-to-be hit was so popular that it was played and sung well into the Christmas season despite being intended for Thanksgiving. The song quickly became a popular Christmas staple during the holiday seasons that followed, and two years later in 1859, the title was changed to "Jingle Bells."

1. Black Friday Is the Busiest Day of the Year for Plumbers

Many of us know that the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the busiest night of the year for bars. People drink more this night than on New Year's Eve or any other holiday. What most of us don't know is that Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is the busiest day of the year for plumbers.

The increase in calls is so great on the day after Thanksgiving that the industry has dubbed it "Brown Friday." The good news is that it's not called that for the reason you're thinking of. The increase in calls is mainly due to clogged sinks and garbage disposals resulting from post-Thanksgiving cleanup. Roto-Rooter states that there is on average a 50% increase in calls to plumbers on "Brown Friday," so make sure to check your drains and be careful what you put in the sink after you eat.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Chris Samhain

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