Thanksgiving traditionally launches the Christmas season in America. But there is still much to learn about our favorite culinary holiday.
CHARLOTTE, N.C., November 23, 2016 – It just wouldn’t be right to let America’s favorite holiday pass without honoring it with some trivia. For starters, we won’t bore you with stuff you already know like the Pilgrims, the Mayflower and Plymouth Rock. However, there is plenty more you probably didn’t know about Thanksgiving, and that’s what makes trivia fun.
Thanksgiving has actually been around for a long time. The first national Thanksgiving was declared by the Continental Congress in 1777 and, beginning in 1817, the state of New York designated Thanksgiving as a statewide holiday.
But Thanksgiving did not become an official national holiday until 1863, when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed it as such. Until that time, previous presidents would actually declare it a holiday or not, depending upon how they felt at the time.
In 1941, some 123 years later after New York made its move, Congress officially announced that Thanksgiving would be observed on the fourth Thursday of each November. At first it had been held on the last Thursday of the month, but President Franklin D. Roosevelt had moved it up a week during the Depression to help the economy and to spur more Christmas shopping.
Most people know the first Thanksgiving was a feast where pilgrims and Indians celebrated their gratitude for the bountiful harvest. Today, the tradition has evolved to include thanks for just about anything and everything.
The original feast lasted three days and consisted mainly of venison, codfish and boiled pumpkin though some historians say there was at least a small amount of turkey on the table as well.
One food that has become a staple of modern day Thanksgivings, the potato, was not part of the diet in the 1620s because the Indians thought potatoes were poisonous.
Much of that first banquet menu was consumed by eating with the hands, but spoons and knives were also among the utensils available in limited quantity.
By the way, in case you are interested, the Indians who celebrated with the pilgrims were from the Wampanoag tribe.
As Thanksgiving entered into the 21st century, many cities began to hold parades on the day. But did you know that the first-ever department store parade was was actually staged in Philadelphia by Gimbel’s in 1920.
If your first pick was rival department store Macy’s—whose annual Thanksgiving Parade in Manhattan has been a longtime New York tradition famed for its giant balloons—you only had to wait until four years later when, in 1924, 400 department store employees paraded from Convent Avenue to 145th Street with animals from the Central Park Zoo in tow. The first giant helium balloons, however, didn’t appear in the Macy’s parade until 1931.
Kids today probably have no idea who popular newspaper cartoon and later animated character Felix the Cat was. But Felix was Top Dog as that first parade headed down Fifth Avenue in that very first Macy’s parade.
Football is another Turkey Day tradition, and the Detroit Lions have been observing it since 1934. If you play for the Lions, it is a given that you will be playing football on Thanksgiving afternoon.
For good luck, the turkey’s wishbone is the charm of choice on Thanksgiving. And, out on the West Coast, California takes the honor as the state which consumes the most turkey on a Thanksgiving holiday, and therefore has the most wishbones available.
A 15-pound farm-bred turkey today typically yields about 70 percent white meat to 30 percent dark meat, and turkey has more protein than chicken or beef. According to the “Guinness Book of World Records” the heaviest turkey on record weighed in at 86 pounds.
One final turkey note, Benjamin Franklin was a fierce proponent of making the national bird the turkey.
Now a bit more food for thought.
In 1953, U.S. food purveyor Swanson wound up with an astounding abundance of 260 pounds of turkey leftovers. One enterprising salesman made the suggestion that the company should package the turkey on aluminum trays similar to the way airlines were serving meals in that era. Swanson followed up on the idea by adding cornbread dressing, peas and carrots, mashed potatoes and apple cranberry cake cobbler. You guessed it, it was the birth of that 1950s and 1960s favorite, the TV dinner.
Now to wrap things up, did you know that “Jingle Bells” was originally written as a Thanksgiving song for children to sing in a Boston Sunday School celebration?
This now completes our “Pilgrim’s Progression” from 1621 until 2016. It’s been a good ride and we are thankful for it. Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving holiday.
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Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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