Fun Facts about the Main Dish on Thanksgiving 

By Julie Murphree AZFB Outreach Director 

You hear it all the time from friends and family: Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because it’s all about the food and less about the gift-giving. It’s also the holiday to be thankful for what we have and share with others.

At Fill Your Plate, it’s true that we too are all about the food. With searchable recipes, farmers’ markets and food products, we focus on food. So, Arizona Farm Bureau’s Fill Your Plate even created a special recipe section devoted to the Thanksgiving Holiday. In this section, the recipes are exclusively focused on the Thanksgiving meal.

The History You Didn’t Know About Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving was not officially declared a National Holiday by Congress until 1941. And, here’s why.

According to the Center for Legislative Archives, a day of public thanksgiving was first declared by a proclamation by President George Washington on November 26, 1789. It was the first time Thanksgiving was celebrated under the new Constitution. Subsequent presidents issued Thanksgiving Proclamations, but the dates and even months of the celebrations varied. It wasn’t until President Abraham Lincoln’s 1963 Proclamation during the height of the Civil War that Thanksgiving began to be regularly commemorated each year on the last Thursday of November.

Congress decided to officially set a fixed-date for the holiday because of an interesting calendar issue one year. In 1939, the last Thursday in November fell on the last day of the month. Concerned that the shortened Christmas shopping season might dampen the economic recovery, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a Presidential Proclamation moving Thanksgiving to the second to last Thursday of November. As a result of the proclamation, 32 states issued similar proclamations while 16 states refused to accept the change and proclaimed Thanksgiving continue to be the last Thursday in November. For two years, two days were celebrated as Thanksgiving: President Roosevelt and part of the nation celebrated it on the second to last Thursday in November, while the rest of the country celebrated it the following week.

To end the confusion and separate celebrations, On October 6, 1941, the House passed a joint resolution declaring the last Thursday in November to be the legal Thanksgiving Day. The Senate, however, amended the resolution establishing the holiday as the fourth Thursday, which would take into account those years when November has five Thursdays. The House agreed to the amendment, and President Roosevelt signed the resolution on December 26, 1941, thus establishing the fourth Thursday in November as the Federal Thanksgiving Day holiday.


Fun Facts

  1. As far back as 1,000 A.D., Native Americans raised turkeys for food. Aztec Indians in Mexico were raising them as early as 200 B.C.
  2. Turkeys originally existed in the eastern U.S. and Mexico.
  3. Turkeys are a type of pheasant.
  4. The first Thanksgiving was celebrated by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe in 1621 and lasted for 3 days.
  5. The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in Plymouth, Massachusetts where the Plymouth Pilgrims were making a new life in the New World after leaving the “Old World.”
  6. The Pilgrims and Indians ate deer, duck, geese, oysters, lobster, eel and fish.
  7. In fact, at the original Thanksgiving, there was no milk, cheese, bread, butter, mashed potatoes, corn or pumpkin pie. Some sources say they are not even sure a turkey was part of the feast.
  8. There were no forks that first Thanksgiving. The first Thanksgiving was eaten with spoons and knives. Forks weren’t a popular utensil until the 18th
  9. Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be the national bird, one of his biggest arguments being that the bird is native to America.
  10. In kind of a bah humbug stance, President Thomas Jefferson did not like the idea of a national Thanksgiving Day.
  11. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s first meal in space after walking on the moon was foil packets with roasted turkey.
  12. Female turkeys (called hens) do not gobble, only male turkeys do.
  13. The average turkey for Thanksgiving weighs 15 pounds.
  14. The famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade began in the 1920s with 400 employees marching from Convent Avenue to 145th Street in New York City. No large balloons were at the first parade, featuring only live animals from Central Park Zoo.
  15. The presenting of the live turkey to the President has been a tradition since 1947. The President then pardons the turkey, allowing it to live out its remaining years on a farm.
  16. According to the American Automobile Association, 54.3 million Americans traveled an estimated 50 miles or more from home during Thanksgiving weekend in 2018.
  17. Scientists have found fossils suggesting that Turkeys roamed North America 10 million years ago.
  18. The NFL started the Thanksgiving Classic games in 1920. Hence the reason there is always a football game on during this holiday celebration.
  19. When Columbus discovered North America, he thought the turkey was a type of peacock, which roam India.
  20. 90% of American homes eat Turkey on Thanksgiving.
  21. 50% eat Turkey on Christmas.
  22. Anywhere from 45 to 46 million turkeys are eaten on thanksgiving, over 675 million pounds, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  23. Thanksgiving is the reason for TV dinners. In 1953, Swanson had so much extra turkey (260 tons) that a salesman told them they should package it onto aluminum trays with other sides like sweet potatoes, birthing the first TV dinner!
  24. Campbell’s soup created green bean casserole for an annual cookbook 50 years ago. It now sells $20 million worth of cream of mushroom soup.
  25. The average Thanksgiving dinner has 4,575 calories.
  26. Over 770 million pounds of cranberries are consumed on Thanksgiving.
  27. The Butterball Turkey Talk Line answers almost 100,000 calls each season.
  28. An estimated 50 million pumpkin pies are eaten on Thanksgiving.
  29. Wild turkeys can run up to 20 mph and fly for short distances up to 55 mph.
  30. Black Friday is the busiest day of the year for plumbers.

Stuffing Facts

  1. About 50% of Americans stuff their birds with stuffing (or “dressing”).
  2. November 21st is National Stuffing Day.
  3. There are regional differences with stuffing: In the South cornbread stuffing is popular, and white bread is common is most other parts of the country. Although, there are many variations to ingredients added with the bread.
  4. Stuffing dates to the Roman Empire, where the ancient cookbook “Apicius de re Coquinaria” had recipes that called for stuffed chicken, rabbit, pork and more.
  5. The brand Stove Top introduced their famous boxed stuffing in 1972. Stove Top now sells around 60 million boxes of stuffing around Thanksgiving.

Editor’s note: With a searchable database of recipes from farmers and ranchers, Fill Your Plate has a “Recipes for Thanksgiving Dinner” category that includes a Citrus Marinated Grilled Turkey and Sharman Hickman of Hickman Family Farms Cosmo Cranberry Sauce. Those who check out the recipes will also have to try out the Sweet Corn Casserole.

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