Thanksgiving Day Fast Facts

Here’s a look at Thanksgiving Day, celebrated in the United States on the fourth Thursday in November. In 2017, Thanksgiving is on November 23.

When the guests around your Thanksgiving table are busy stuffing their bellies, here’s one way to break the lull in conversation: dazzle them with some tasty turkey trivia.

Facts:

  • Hitting the road: AAA forecasts 50.9 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more for Thanksgiving in 2017.
  • According to the USDA, 244 million turkeys were projected to be raised in the United States in 2016.
  • Hungry? 859 million pounds of cranberries were projected to be produced in the United States in 2016.
  • Pardon me: The president traditionally receives a turkey in a ceremony at the White House a few days before Thanksgiving Day. President Harry S. Truman started the tradition and President George H. W. Bushwas the first to pardon the bird and not eat it.
  • A tradition is born: TV dinners have Thanksgiving to thank. In 1953, someone at Swanson misjudged the number of frozen turkeys it would sell that Thanksgiving — by 26 TONS! Some industrious soul came up with a brilliant plan: Why not slice up the meat and repackage with some trimmings on the side? Thus, the first TV dinner was born!
  • Going shopping?: Not if you’re a plumber. Black Friday is the busiest day of the year for them, according to Roto-Rooter, the nation’s largest plumbing service. After all, someone has to clean up after household guests who “overwhelm the system.”
  • This land is my landThere are four places in the United States named Turkey. Louisiana’s Turkey Creek is the most populous, with a whopping 435 residents. There’s also Turkey, Texas; Turkey, North Carolina; and Turkey Creek, Arizona. Oh, let’s not forget the two townships in Pennsylvania: the creatively named Upper Turkeyfoot and Lower Turkeyfoot!
  • Leaving a legacy: When Abe Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday, it was thanks to the tireless efforts of a magazine editor named Sarah Josepha Hale. Her other claim to fame? She also wrote the nursery rhyme, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”
  • Gobble, gobble?: Not so fast. Only male turkeys, called toms, gobble. Females, called hens, cackle.
  • Ben’s bird: If Ben Franklin had his way, the turkey would be our national bird. An eagle, he wrote in a letter to his daughter, had “bad moral character.” A turkey, on the other hand, was a “much more respectable bird.”
  • Born in the U.S.A.: Thanksgiving is not just an American holiday. Canadians celebrate it too. Except they do it the second Monday in October.
  • Don’t blame the bird: You stuffed yourself, and now you’re feeling sleepy, very sleepy. But it ain’t the tryptophan in the turkey. In fact, chickens have more tryptophan. You’re groggy because you overate. And digesting all that grub takes a lot of energy.
  • Talking turkey: Why is it called a turkey? Oh boy, this will take some explainin’. Back in the day, the Europeans took a liking to the guinea fowls imported to the continent. Since the birds were imported by Turkish merchants, the English called them turkeys. Later, when the Spaniards came to America, they found a bird that tasted like those guinea fowls. When they were sent to Europe, the English called these birds “turkeys” as well.

Timeline:

Fall 1621 – The first Thanksgiving is observed in Plymouth. A good harvest leads Massachusetts Governor William Bradford to plan a festival to give thanks. Around 90 Native Americans attend.

1789 – President George Washington issues a proclamation naming November 26 a day of national thanksgiving.

There was no national Thanksgiving Day for several years, but many states had Thanksgiving holidays.

October 3, 1863 – President Abraham Lincoln proclaims the last Thursday in November as a national day of thanksgiving.

1939 – President Franklin D. Roosevelt moves Thanksgiving Day one week earlier to boost the Christmas shopping season.

1941 – Congress rules that the fourth Thursday in November will be observed as Thanksgiving Day and a federal legal holiday.

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