We all know that the first Thanksgiving dinner took place when the Pilgrims celebrated a good harvest in the New World, and that the tryptophan in turkey isn’t actually what makes you so sleepy.
But did you know that there was a crisis in the late 1930s called “Franksgiving?”
We rounded up 11 of the best facts about Thanksgiving, which might come in handy during those awkward silences at the family dinner table.
1. There are three places in the US named Turkey.
Three small towns in America are named after the nation’s favourite bird. There is Turkey, Texas; Turkey, North Carolina; and Turkey Creek, Louisiana, according to the US Census Bureau. Turkey Creek, Louisiana is the most populated, with 441 residents.
2. The first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade used live animals from the Central Park Zoo.
The first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York took place in 1914 when Macy’s employees dressed in vibrant costumes and marched to the flagship store on 34th street.
The parade used floats instead of balloons, and it featured monkeys, bears, camels, and elephants all borrowed from the Central Park Zoo.
It was also originally called the Macy’s Christmas Parade, but was renamed the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1927.
3. Jingle Bells was originally a Thanksgiving song.
James Pierpoint composed the song in 1857 for children celebrating Thanksgiving. The title was “One Horse Open Sleigh,” and it was such a hit that it was sung again at Christmas. The song quickly became associated with the Christmas holiday season, and the title was officially changed in 1859, two years later.
4. The Detroit Lions always play on Thanksgiving.
Football is so ingrained in the Thanksgiving holiday that many people think the game is just as important as the turkey.
The first NFL football game that took place on Thanksgiving Day was in 1934 when the Detroit Lions played the Chicago Bears. The Lions have played on Thanksgiving ever since, except when the team was called away to serve during World War II, according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The Dallas Cowboys also always play on Thanksgiving. Their first Thanksgiving Day game was held in 1966, and the Cowboys have only missed two games since then.
6. The night before Thanksgiving is the best day for bar sales in the US.
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is responsible for the most bar sales in America, more than New Year’s Eve, the Super Bowl, or even St. Patrick’s Day.
It makes sense, since nearly all Americans have Thanksgiving off and dealing with family members can be very stressful. (But at least stuffing your face with fatty Thanksgiving foods is a perfect hangover cure.)
7. Thanksgiving leftovers inspired the first-ever TV dinner.
In 1953, the TV dinner company Swanson overestimated the demand for turkey by over 260 tons, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
The owners of the company had no idea what to do with all the leftovers, so they enlisted the help of company salesman Gerry Thomas.
Taking inspiration from aeroplane meals, Thomas ordered 5,000 aluminium trays, and loaded them with the turkey leftovers to create the first TV dinner.
8. Ben Franklin wanted the turkey to be the official bird of the US.
Benjamin Franklin thought turkeys were much more American than bald eagle. Franklin wrote a letter to his daughter that said: “I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country; his is a bird of bad moral character.”
Franklin thought the turkey was a “much more respectable bird.”
8. Thomas Jefferson canceled Thanksgiving during his presidency.
George Washington was the first to declare Thanksgiving as a holiday, but it was on a year-to-year basis, so presidents had to re-declare it every year, according to the Washington Post. Jefferson was so adamantly against Thanksgiving that he refused to declare it a holiday during his presidency, and many say that he called the holiday “the most ridiculous idea ever conceived.”
Most historians agree that Jefferson really refused to declare the holiday because he fervently believed in the separation of church and state, and thought that the day of “prayer” violated the First Amendment.
It wasn’t until 1863, when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a federal holiday, that our beloved turkey day was officially scheduled to fall on the fourth Thursday of every month.
9. FDR tried to change the date of Thanksgiving — and it caused a lot of problems.
In 1939, Franklin Roosevelt changed the date of Thanksgiving from the last Thursday in November to the second-to-last, according to the US National Archives.
The change was made in an attempt to lift the economy during the Great Depression, the idea being that it would give people more time to shop for Christmas.
But it ended up making everybody confused. Most states held Thanksgiving on its original date, and three states — Colorado, Mississippi, and Texas — celebrated the holiday in both weeks, according to the Wall Street Journal.
It caused such a public outcry that people began referring to it as “Franksgiving.” After two years, Congress ditched the new policy and set the fourth Thursday of November as the legal holiday.
10. Minnesota produces the most turkeys in the US.
Minnesota produces more turkey than any other state in America. Last year, the state produced more than 1.16 billion pounds of turkey, valued at nearly $US839 million, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center.
North Carolina, Arkansas, Missouri, and Virgina are also top producers.
11. There is an annual tradition of offering a turkey a presidential pardon — and no one is really sure when it began.
The White House has a tradition of pardoning one lucky turkey each year.
The annual tradition was thought to have begun in 1947 with President Harry Truman. But some think that it actually started in the 1860s with Abraham Lincoln after his son Tad begged him to spare his pet turkey’s life.
Despite these two theories of the origins of the pardon, George H. W. Bush was the first president to officially grant a turkey a presidential pardon, according to the New York Times.
Plus, John Oliver really doesn’t understand why America does it.