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Turkey-Day Revelations: 7 Fun Facts About Thanksgiving History

Image of a cutout design of a pumkin pie for an article on fun facts about Thanksgiving.

In this article, we’ll delve into the past to uncover 7 fun facts about Thanksgiving history you may or may not have heard before.

From its early beginnings as a celebration of harvest and goodwill to its connection with presidential turkey pardoning and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, these fun facts will provide you with a deeper appreciation for the rich history of this beloved holiday.

So, let’s embark on a journey through time to explore the captivating tales and traditions that make Thanksgiving a truly remarkable part of American history.

7 Fun Facts About Thanksgiving Explained

As we embark on our journey through fascinating Thanksgiving history, we’ll start the conversation with the fact that Thanksgiving didn’t get its start as a national holiday.

This intriguing piece of history reveals the evolution of a cherished holiday that has become an integral part of American culture.

Image of Abraham Lincoln statue at the Lincoln Memorial, honoring the President who established Thanksgiving as a national holiday.
Abraham Lincoln, the President who made Thanksgiving
a national holiday, immortalized at the Lincoln Memorial.

1. Thanksgiving Wasn’t Always a National Holiday

Thanksgiving’s Modest Origins

In the realm of fun facts about Thanksgiving, one intriguing aspect is its modest beginnings.

Contrary to its current status as a cherished national holiday, Thanksgiving wasn’t always recognized nationally.

It started as a regional observance, with individual states and communities celebrating the holiday in various ways.

Sarah Josepha Hale’s Campaign

A significant chapter in the history of fun facts about Thanksgiving is the role played by Sarah Josepha Hale.

This influential writer and editor dedicated herself to advocating for Thanksgiving’s national recognition.

Hale believed in the holiday’s unifying power and tirelessly wrote letters to presidents, urging them to establish Thanksgiving as a nationwide tradition.

Lincoln’s Historic Proclamation

The turning point in the evolution of Thanksgiving from a regional tradition to a national holiday came during the Civil War.

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued an official proclamation that solidified Thanksgiving as a national day of gratitude.

This historical proclamation is a central element among the fun facts about Thanksgiving, marking a significant shift in its status and significance.

Image of a turkey crossed out to symbolize that turkey was not on the menu at the first Thanksgiving for an article on fun facts about Thanksgiving
Turkey was likely not on the menu at the first Thanksgiving

2. The First Thanksgiving Wasn’t About Turkey

Thanksgiving’s Culinary Origins

Among the fascinating fun facts about Thanksgiving, the misconception about turkey takes center stage.

Contrary to popular belief, the original Thanksgiving feast in 1621 didn’t primarily feature turkey.

The Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians shared a meal with venison, fowl, seafood, and various vegetables.

Pilgrim’s Feast: A Diverse Menu

The first Thanksgiving was a testament to culinary diversity.

Fun facts about Thanksgiving’s early history reveal that the menu was a reflection of the resources available in the New World.

While fowl was present, it wasn’t necessarily turkey.

This diversity of dishes reflects the adaptation and creativity of early American settlers.

Turkey’s Rise to Thanksgiving Stardom

Turkey’s association with Thanksgiving evolved over time.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that turkey became the centerpiece of the holiday table.

This shift in culinary tradition is just one of the many fun facts about Thanksgiving that highlights the holiday’s ever-changing nature.

Image of a cartoon turkey on the 50 yard line of a football field
Thanksgiving and football have gone hand-in-hand for well over 100 years in the U.S.

3. The Football / Thanksgiving Nexus

Thanksgiving’s Sporting Tradition

In the realm of interesting facts about Thanksgiving, a unique tradition stands out: the close connection between Thanksgiving and football.

This pairing has become an integral part of the holiday for many Americans.

It all began in the early 20th century when college football games started being played on Thanksgiving Day.

The Birth of Thanksgiving Football

One of the most intriguing fun facts about Thanksgiving is the birth of Thanksgiving football.

The University of Michigan and the University of Chicago played the first Thanksgiving Day football game in 1893.

It marked the beginning of a cherished tradition, with various college and professional teams embracing the idea of playing football on Thanksgiving.

The NFL’s Thanksgiving Tradition

The National Football League (NFL) joined the Thanksgiving tradition in 1920.

The Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys have been hosting annual Thanksgiving Day games since the 1930s.

This historical link between Thanksgiving and football adds an exciting dimension to the fun facts about Thanksgiving, highlighting the unique blend of sports and holiday celebrations.

Image of President John F. Kennedy participating in the White House turkey pardoning tradition before Thanksgiving.
President John F. Kennedy Pardoning a Thanksgiving Turkey at the White House

4. Origins of Presidential Turkey Pardoning Tradition

Presidential Turkey Pardoning: A Quirky Thanksgiving Tradition

One of the most unusual and delightful historical facts about Thanksgiving in the United States is the tradition of presidential turkey pardoning.

Its origins date back to President Abraham Lincoln, a compassionate leader during a tumultuous time in American history.

In 1863, during the Civil War, President Lincoln’s young son, Tad, befriended a turkey slated for the family’s Thanksgiving dinner.

Tad’s plea to spare the turkey’s life touched the President’s heart, and he decided to pardon the turkey, marking the inception of this charming tradition.

The Transition to Modern Tradition

The tradition of presidential turkey pardoning lay relatively dormant for many years after Lincoln’s compassionate act.

It wasn’t until President George H.W. Bush in 1989 that it gained renewed prominence.

He formally pardoned a turkey, giving it a reprieve from the Thanksgiving table, and the ceremony took its modern form.

This quirky tradition quickly captured the public’s imagination, and it has since become an endearing part of Thanksgiving in the U.S.

A Symbol of Presidential Compassion

Presidential turkey pardoning is not just a fun and lighthearted tradition but also a symbol of compassion during a time when the nation comes together to celebrate gratitude.

It serves as a reminder that even in the highest office, there is room for humor and kindness.

The presidential turkey pardoning tradition, nestled among the many fun facts about Thanksgiving, showcases the heartwarming side of American leadership and brings a smile to the faces of those who partake in this whimsical holiday tradition.

The spectacular 2012 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in the heart of New York City, in time-lapse

5. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as a Thanksgiving Tradition

The Parade’s Beginnings

Among the many fun facts about Thanksgiving, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has a remarkable history.

In 1924, the parade was first organized by Macy’s department store employees in New York City.

They aimed to celebrate Thanksgiving and the holiday shopping season with a festive procession of floats, live animals borrowed from the Central Park Zoo, and marching bands.

Little did they know that this event would become a cherished Thanksgiving tradition.

From Small Beginnings to National Phenomenon

Over the years, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade grew in scale and popularity.

In the 1920s, the addition of giant character balloons, including the iconic Mickey Mouse, captured the imagination of spectators.

Today, it’s one of the most eagerly anticipated fun facts about Thanksgiving for people all over the country.

With its spectacular floats, iconic balloons, and star-studded performances, the parade has become an integral part of Thanksgiving celebrations, bringing joy and entertainment to millions of viewers and showcasing the spirit of fun facts about Thanksgiving.

A Unifying Symbol of Holiday Cheer

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has transcended its origins as a marketing event and has become a symbol of unity and holiday cheer.

It brings people of all ages together to celebrate the spirit of fun facts about Thanksgiving.

The parade’s enduring popularity is a testament to its ability to capture the magic of the holiday season and spread joy to families across the nation.

Image of President Franklin D. Roosevelt at his desk in the Oval Office, where he proposed moving Thanksgiving to the third Thursday in November.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt (possibly)
contemplating a Thanksgiving Day date change in the Oval Office

6. Thanksgiving Was Almost on a Different Day

FDR’s Attempted Date Shift

In the realm of fun facts about Thanksgiving, a fascinating historical event almost altered the holiday’s date.

For years, Thanksgiving was traditionally celebrated on the last Thursday of November.

However, in 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt raised the possibility of moving Thanksgiving up by one week to the third Thursday in November.

Controversy and Mixed Reactions

Roosevelt’s proposal for a date change stirred controversy and divided the nation.

Some states adopted the new date, while others remained loyal to the traditional last Thursday.

This division led to confusion and logistical challenges for businesses and families alike.

This intriguing episode in the fun facts about Thanksgiving series showcased the holiday’s resilience and the importance of tradition.

Congressional Resolution: Preserving Tradition

Ultimately, in 1941, Congress stepped in to resolve the matter and officially restored Thanksgiving to its original place on the calendar, making it the fourth Thursday in November.

This resolution solidified the holiday’s date, ending the uncertainty and preserving the cherished tradition.

This historical turn in the fun facts about Thanksgiving emphasizes the enduring significance of Thanksgiving and the unity it brings to the nation.

Image of a Black Friday sale tag, symbolizing the contemporary connection between Thanksgiving and shopping traditions.
A Black Friday sale tag, symbolizing the contemporary
connection between Thanksgiving and early Christmas shopping

7. Black Friday’s Connection to Thanksgiving

Black Friday’s Early Origins

One of the intriguing fun facts about Thanksgiving is its connection to the phenomenon known as Black Friday.

This shopping extravaganza has become synonymous with Thanksgiving weekend, but its origins date back to the mid-20th century.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the term “Black Friday” was used in Philadelphia to describe the chaotic rush of shoppers and tourists that descended upon the city on the day after Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving as the Shopping Kickoff

By the 1980s, Black Friday had spread beyond Philadelphia, becoming a nationwide shopping event.

Retailers recognized the opportunity to kick off the holiday shopping season with enticing discounts and sales.

Thanksgiving Day started to see early store openings, with some opening their doors in the evening.

This shift marked a significant change in how Americans approached Thanksgiving, as it began to blend with the consumer-driven Black Friday tradition.

Thanksgiving’s Role in Holiday Shopping

Today, the connection between Thanksgiving and Black Friday is undeniable.

Thanksgiving has evolved into a day of feasting and shopping, with many retailers opening on the evening of Thanksgiving or early morning on Black Friday.

While it’s a time for families to gather and give thanks, it has also become the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season, offering consumers the chance to snag deals and discounts.

This unique intersection of holiday traditions and commerce is one of the captivating fun facts about Thanksgiving, reflecting the ever-changing nature of this cherished holiday.

Image capturing a family enjoying a Thanksgiving dinner together, a scene of togetherness and gratitude.
A bird’s-eye view of a heartwarming Thanksgiving dinner gathering

Wrap-up: Fun Facts About Thanksgiving

In conclusion, exploring the rich tapestry of Thanksgiving history reveals a treasure trove of fun facts about Thanksgiving that add depth and context to this beloved holiday.

Thanksgiving’s journey is fascinating and heartwarming, from its humble beginnings as a regional celebration to transforming into a nationally recognized day of gratitude.

We’ve learned about the surprising menu at the first Thanksgiving feast, the connection between Thanksgiving and football, the heartwarming tradition of presidential turkey pardoning, the evolution of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the near change in Thanksgiving’s date, and its intriguing link to Black Friday shopping.

These fun facts about Thanksgiving entertain and inform us of the enduring spirit of unity, compassion, and gratitude at the heart of this cherished holiday.

As we gather with loved ones to celebrate Thanksgiving in the future, let’s cherish these fun facts as part of the tapestry that makes this holiday so special, adding depth and meaning to our traditions.

Check out my article Tracing the Halloween History Timeline: 10 Key Events That Shaped the Holiday to read about the history of another key fall holiday!

Image of an artist's rendition of the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth Rock
Artist’s rendition of the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth Rock

FAQs: Fun Facts About Thanksgiving

1. Is Thanksgiving Celebrated Outside the United States?

Thanksgiving is primarily an American holiday with deep historical roots in the United States.


While it’s not widely celebrated outside the U.S., there are instances of its observance in other countries.


Canada, for instance, celebrates Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October, albeit with some variations in traditions and timing compared to the American holiday.


Additionally, some American expatriates and residents living abroad may continue to celebrate Thanksgiving, often sharing the traditions and feasts with local friends and communities, bringing a touch of this American holiday to different parts of the world.


However, its observance beyond North America is limited, and it remains primarily an integral part of American culture and tradition.




2. What Was the Original Purpose of Thanksgiving in the United States?

The original purpose of Thanksgiving in the United States was to give thanks for a bountiful harvest and the blessings of the past year.


The Pilgrims who settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in the early 17th century celebrated the first Thanksgiving to express gratitude for their successful harvest and build positive relations with the Native Americans who had helped them.




3. How Did Thanksgiving Influence the Creation of a National Banking System in the U.S.?

Thanksgiving indirectly influenced the creation of a national banking system in the United States during the early 19th century.


At that time, the country faced a fragmented and often unreliable banking system, with numerous state-chartered banks issuing their own banknotes.


This diversity of currencies made trade and financial transactions cumbersome and complicated.


The issue was exacerbated during Thanksgiving when people from different regions would come together and try to use various banknotes.


The resulting confusion highlighted the need for a standardized and unified national currency.


As a result, the push for a national banking system gained momentum, leading to the establishment of the National Banking System in 1863 and issuing a uniform national currency, ultimately giving rise to the U.S. dollar as a stable and widely accepted currency across the nation.


Thanksgiving, with its tradition of bringing people together from different areas, played a role in underscoring the need for a more efficient and consistent monetary system in the United States.




References: Fun Facts About Thanksgiving