Thanksgiving Facts Legends Myths & Traditions

You are about to discover a lot of fascinating facts, legends, myths and traditions associated with Thanksgiving. Some you may already be familiar with – while others you may learn a thing or two about one of America’s most well-known and favorite holidays. The following may overwhelm you but should definitely answer just about everything you wanted or needed to know about Thanksgiving.  With all this newly acquired knowledge and information, you can impress and ‘wow’ your family, relatives and friends at the Thanksgiving feast/table. You just might want to include plans for some exercise the next day as the average American eats a day and a half worth of calories in one meal. It’s probably a good idea to join the holiday shopping rush on Black Friday – about 10 hours should do it!  Shopping burns approximately 300 calories an hour!

Bon Appetite & Good Luck 😛

Nowadays, Thanksgiving Day is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November in the United States, but not always. Now let’s take a closer look on Thanksgiving facts, legends, myths and traditions…..

What We Eat

  • Americans feast on 535 million pounds of turkey on Thanksgiving.
  • According the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 45 million turkeys are cooked and eaten in the United States at Thanksgiving. That number represents one sixth of all the turkeys sold in the U.S. each year!
  • The average person consumes 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving Day. (Now that’s a lot of turkey!)
  • The cranberry got its name because the pale pink blossoms on the plant resembled a crane’s head and neck. The name cranberry stuck, eventually becoming cranberry.
  • Fresh cranberries are ideal for cranberry sauce. Cranberries of the highest quality will always bounce! (Make sure you wash the cranberries before eating if you try this at home!)

The Living Turkey

  • Domesticated turkeys cannot fly, however wild turkeys can fly up to 55 miles per hour over short distances.
  • Only male (‘tom’) turkeys gobble. Females make a clicking noise. The famous gobble is actually a seasonal mating call.
  • The heaviest turkey ever raised weighed in at 86 pounds – about the size of a German Shepherd! (But turkeys are normally not used as police animals.)
  • A turkey under 16 weeks of age is called a ‘fryer’. A five to seven month old turkey is called a ‘roaster’.
  • The Turkey Trot, a ballroom dance in the 1900s, was named for the short, jerky steps of the turkey. It became popular mainly because it was denounced by the Vatican as “suggestive.”
  • Turkeys can drown if they look up when it’s raining!
  • A spooked turkey can run at speeds up to 20 miles per hour. They can also burst into flight approaching speeds between 50-55 mph in a matter of seconds.
  • A wild turkey has excellent vision and hearing. Their field of vision is about 270 degrees… one of the main reasons they continue to elude some hunters.
  • Turkeys spend the night in trees. They fly to their roosts around sunset.
  • Turkeys fly to the ground at first light and feed until mid-morning. Feeding resumes in mid-afternoon.
  • Gobbling starts before sunrise and can continue through most of the morning.
  • Turkeys are able to adapt to a wide variety of habitats. However, most turkeys are found in hardwood forests with grassy areas.

That First Thanksgiving

  • On December 11, 1620 the first Pilgrims landed in North America at Plymouth Rock
  • By the fall of 1621 only half of the pilgrims, who had sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to the new land survived. These survivors, thankful to be alive, decided to give a thanksgiving feast.
  • The first Thanksgiving celebration can be traced back to the Plymouth Pilgrims in the fall of 1621.
  • The Pilgrims sailed on the ship, which was known by the name of ‘Mayflower’.
  • They celebrated the first Thanksgiving Day at Plymouth, Massachusetts in the fall of 1621.
  • The drink that the Puritans brought with them in the Mayflower was the beer.
  • The Pilgrim leader, Governor William Bradford, had organized the first Thanksgiving feast in the year 1621 and invited the neighboring Wampanoag Indians to the feast.
  • The Wampanoag Chief Massasoit and about ninety of his tribesmen were invited to the first thanksgiving feast as a way of thanking them for teaching the Pilgrims how to cultivate the land as well as survival skills.
  • The first Thanksgiving celebration in 1621 lasted for three days and included food and games.
  • The first Thanksgiving feast was held to thank the Lord for sparing the lives of the survivors of the Mayflower, who landed at Plymouth Rock on December 11, 1620. The survivors included four adult women and almost forty percent children.
  • The average age of the Mayflower passenger was 32. The oldest Mayflower passenger was 64.
  • Contrary to popular belief, the Pilgrims did not have big buckles on their clothing, shoes, or hats.
  • Buckles did not come into fashion until the late 1600s – more appropriate for the Salem Witchcraft trial time period.
  • There was no milk, cheese, bread, butter or pumpkin pie at the original Thanksgiving Day feast.

The Making of A National Holiday

  • President George Washington issued the first national Thanksgiving Day Proclamation in the year 1789 and again in 1795.
  • President Thomas Jefferson scoffed at the idea of establishing a national “Thanksgiving Day.
  • The state of New York officially made Thanksgiving Day an annual custom in 1817.
  • Sarah Josepha Hale, an editor with a magazine, started a Thanksgiving campaign in 1827 and it was a result of her efforts that in 1863 Thanksgiving was observed as a day for national thanksgiving and prayer.
  • Abraham Lincoln issued a ‘Thanksgiving Proclamation’ on October 3, 1863 and officially set aside the last Thursday of November as the national day for Thanksgiving… whereas previous presidents used to make an annual proclamation to specify the day when Thanksgiving was to be held. However, after his death, is wasn’t followed.
  • President Franklin D. Roosevelt restored the last Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day in the year 1939. He did so to make the Christmas shopping season longer and thus stimulate the national economy.
  • Congress passed an official proclamation in 1941 and declared that from then forward, Thanksgiving will be observed as a legal holiday on the fourth Thursday of November every year.
  • Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be the national bird of the United States. But it was Thomas Jefferson who opposed him. It is believed that Franklin then named the male turkey as ‘tom’ to spite Jefferson.

More American Traditions

  • The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, an American institution and tradition, has been held annually since 1920.
  • It’s so prominent in New York that Thanksgiving is referred to in NYC as Macy’s Day.
  • The end of the parade signals the official beginning of the Christmas Season, consummated by Black Friday where shoppers officially begin the holiday rush.
  • Black Friday is traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year where stores open earlier than usual and stay open later than usual – with long lines waiting many hours before the stores open.
  • The Thanksgiving Classic football game was first organized by the Detroit Lions in 1920 to boost ticket sales. The Lions have played home games annually on Thanksgiving Day since that time. The Dallas Cowboys have also played on Turkey Day annually since 1966. Since then, teams traditionally wear throwback jerseys to commemorate their team’s history.

Interesting Odds & Ends

  • The day before Thanksgiving is the largest day in the United States for bar sales. New Years Eve comes in a close second.
  • About 78% of employees get paid leave Wednesday through Friday of Thanksgiving Week.
  • Thanksgiving week is also considered one of the busiest travel periods of the entire year.
  • The ‘wishbone’ of the turkey is used in a good luck ritual on Thanksgiving Day.
  • Californians are the largest consumers of turkey in the United States.
  • In Canada, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday in October.
  • Israel has the highest consumption of turkey per capita: 12 kg (27 lb).


Legends & Myths

No one really knows why we eat turkey on Thanksgiving, but since 1621 that has been the tradition. Approximately 91% of people eat turkey adding up to the sale of over 280 million turkeys for Thanksgiving celebrations. That’s about 7.3 billion pounds of turkey.

Archeologists have found evidence that turkeys were roaming the United States 10 million years ago. According to the Guinness Book of World Records the largest turkey weighed 86 lbs. It won the Heaviest Turkey competition in London on December 12.

Probably the strangest thing you’ve heard about turkey is that it contains tryptophan, a natural sedative. While it is true that turkey contains tryptophan, it’s a myth that you get sleepy from eating it. Unfortunately it’s not as simple as that.

Here’s how it works:

Tryptophan is an amino acid that helps your body produce serotonin, a calming agent in the brain that plays a key role in sleep. So that seems simple enough? Tryptophan produces chemicals that make you sleepy so that is why everyone takes their post-dinner nap on Turkey Day.

Wrong –

Pharmaceutical companies, learning that the chemical produced serotonin, started producing medication in the 1980s for insomniacs. In 1990 the FDA banned tryptophan supplements because the chemical lead to severe muscle pain and even death. While tryptophan does produce serotonin it takes a large of the amino acid to produce enough to knock you out. Unfortunately, that amount can cause serious health problems.

Here’s why tryptophan in turkey doesn’t make you sleepy –

1st — Tryptophan levels in turkey are minimal – almost unrecognizable.

2nd — Tryptophan only works well on an empty stomach. When you have food in your system, tryptophan has to compete with all the other amino acids in your system, so an even less amount makes it to your brain.

Sorry guys but this is just an urban legend.

The real reason you get sleepy is simple — You over eat — The average meal contains 3000 calories, most of which are carbohydrates. This means your body is working overtime to digest everything causing that post-meal lethargy.


Additional Facts & Figures

The preliminary estimate of turkeys raised in the United States in 2009 is 250 million. That’s down 8 percent from the number raised during 2008. The turkeys produced in 2008 together weighed 7.9 billion pounds and were valued at $4.5 billion.

Source: USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service

The preliminary estimate of turkeys Minnesota expected to raise in 2009  is 45.5 million. The Gopher State was tops in turkey production, followed by North Carolina (37.5 million), Arkansas (28 million), Missouri (21 million), Virginia (16.4 million) and California (15 million). These six states together would probably account for about two-thirds of U.S. turkeys produced in 2009.

The forecast for U.S. cranberry production in 2009 is 709 million pounds.. Wisconsin is expected to lead all states in the production of cranberries, with 400 million pounds, followed by Massachusetts (190 million). New Jersey, Oregon and Washington are also expected to have substantial production, ranging from 16 million to 54 million pounds.

The total weight of sweet potatoes — another popular Thanksgiving side dish — produced by major sweet potato producing states in 2008 is 1.8 billion. North Carolina (874 million pounds) produced more sweet potatoes than any other state. It was followed by California (437 million pounds) and Mississippi (335 million pounds).

Total production of pumpkins produced in the major pumpkin-producing states in 2008 is 1.1 billion pounds. Illinois led the country by producing 496 million pounds of the vined orange gourd. Pumpkin patches in California, Pennsylvania and New York also provided lots of pumpkins: Each state produced at least 100 million pounds. The value of all pumpkins produced by major pumpkin-producing states was $141 million.

If you prefer cherry pie, you will be pleased to learn that the nation’s forecasted tart cherry production for 2009 totals 284 million pounds. Of this total, the overwhelming majority (220 million) will be produced in Michigan.

The total volume of wheat — the essential ingredient of bread, rolls and pie crust — produced in the United States in 2009 is 2.2 billion bushels. North Dakota and Kansas accounted for 34 percent of the nation’s wheat production.

The 2008 contracted production of snap (green) beans in major snap (green) bean-producing states is 794,777 tons. Of this total, Wisconsin led all states (320,200 tons). Many Americans consider green bean casserole a traditional Thanksgiving dish.

Source: The previous data came from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service

The value of U.S. imports of live turkeys from January through July of 2009 — 99.3 percent from Canada is $9.2 million. When it comes to sweet potatoes, however, the Dominican Republic was the source of 60.7 percent ($2.8 million) of total imports ($4.7 million). The United States ran a $5.8 million trade deficit in live turkeys during the period but had a surplus of $23.1 million in sweet potatoes.

Source: Foreign Trade Statistics

The quantity of turkey consumed by the typical American in 2007, with a hearty helping devoured at Thanksgiving time is 13.8 pounds. Per capita sweet potato consumption was 5.2 pounds.

Source: Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2010, Tables 212-213

The value of turkeys shipped in 2002 is $3.6 billion. Arkansas led the way in turkey shipments, with $581.5 million, followed by Virginia ($544.2 million) and North Carolina ($453 million). In 2002, poultry businesses whose primary product was turkey totaled 35 establishments, employing about 17,000 people.

Source: Poultry Processing: 2002

Forecast 2009 receipts to farmers from turkey sales is $3.8 billion. This exceeds the total receipts from sales of products such as barley, oats and sorghum (combined) and peanuts.

Source: USDA Economic Research Service

Retail cost per pound of a frozen whole turkey in December 2008 was $1.33.

Source: Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2010, Table 717

Number of places in the United States named after the holiday’s traditional main course is 3. Turkey, Texas, was the most populous in 2008, with 456 residents, followed by Turkey Creek, La. (361) and Turkey, N.C. (272). There are also nine townships around the country named Turkey, three in Kansas.

Source: Population estimates

Number of households across the nation — 117 million – all potential gathering places for people to celebrate the holiday.

Source: Families and Living Arrangements: 2008

Source: US Census Bureau


Here are a couple Thanksgiving related links from this blog to enjoy –