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These 10 Thanksgiving Facts Will Surprise You

Redbook logo Redbook 5 hrs ago Leah Silverman, Katie Robinson
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Most of us have come to think of Thanksgiving as an opportunity to express our gratitude for the abundance in our lives, whether that's the good relationships we have with our friends and families, our opportunities, our health—and to stuff ourselves with mashed potatoes, of course. But the holiday's history is a bit more involved than just a commemoration of the gratitude we should share in our lives every day of the year. As it happens, the story of Thanksgiving has many layers that include spectacle, entrepreneurial spirit, and economic recovery—and, naturally, feasting.

A woman named Sarah Josepha Hale lobbied Congress for years to make Thanksgiving an official holiday.

If it wasn't for this determined woman, Thanksgiving wouldn't exist today. Hale's allegiance to Thanksgiving began in 1827 and was based in national pride; she hoped to make it “permanently, an American custom and institution.” It wasn't until 1863 that President Lincoln finally declared Thanksgiving a national holiday. Seeing as the President did this in throws of the Civil War, Thanksgiving is considered by some to be an attempt on behalf of the president to bring some peace back to the country.

a bunch of fruit sitting on a wooden table: flag corn pumpkins © Getty Images flag corn pumpkins

Originally, Thanksgiving may not have been celebrated in November at all, but rather mid-October.

There isn't clear historical information on the actual date of the first Thanksgiving. President Lincoln assigned the holiday to fall on the last Thursday in November, possibly to coincide with the date the Pilgrims first landed the Mayflower in New England.

a variety of fruits and vegetables on display: thanksgiving facts © Getty thanksgiving facts

In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed the date of Thanksgiving to one week earlier.

Roosevelt hoped that a lengthened holiday shopping season would increase spending and alleviate the crippling Depression. This resulted in two consecutive years of conflicting Thanksgiving Day celebrations, as some states refused to recognize the change.

By 1941, FDR gave in and signed a bill making the fourth Thursday in November the official date for Thanksgiving nationwide, regardless of whether it's the last Thursday of the month or not.

Franklin D. Roosevelt sitting at a table: thanksgiving facts © Getty thanksgiving facts

The first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1924 featured live animals from the Central Park Zoo.

Though the parade stretched just two blocks, New York City went all out for what newspapers were calling "a marathon of mirth." In addition to four bands, a large Santa float, and costumed Macy's employees, also participating in the parade were live animals including bears, elephants, camels, and monkeys from the zoo.

thanksgiving facts © Getty thanksgiving facts

Thanksgiving leftovers led to the first ever TV dinner.

In 1953, the influential food corporation Swanson overestimated how much turkey would be consumed on Thanksgiving and had to get creative with the 260 tons of leftover meat. Using 5,000 aluminum trays and an assembly line of hand-packers, the corporation created a Thanksgiving-inspired meal with the aforementioned turkey, cornbread dressing and gravy, peas, and sweet potatoes, selling the whole thing for a grand total of 98 cents. In the first full year of production, they sold ten million of them, and birthed the prepackaged frozen meal industry.

a tray of food on a plate: thanksgiving facts © Getty thanksgiving facts

The menu for the first Thanksgiving dinner in Plymouth in 1621 likely included lobster, seal, and swans.

No, turkey did not RSVP. The friendly feast between Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Native Americans lasted for three days, during which both parties contributed to the meal. Though there are few records of the actual menu, it is known that the Pilgrims hunted for local fowl (swans very much included) and the Wampanoag brought five deer.

a lobster on a table © Getty Images lobster

There is a Canadian Thanksgiving, but it’s very different.

It’s celebrated in October and falls on a Monday. The celebration isn’t centered around Native Americans and Pilgrims, but shopping instead. Over the centuries, their holiday tradition has changed from crop festivals to explorations to battle victories, and finally, a general opportunity to give thanks and express gratitude (not unlike the American celebration.)

a close up of a lush green field: thanksgiving facts © Getty thanksgiving facts

The British don’t officially celebrate Thanksgiving, but they do celebrate "Brits-giving."

Oh yes, it's a real thing. The British increasingly embrace the American tradition to celebrate gratitude and national pride. But it wouldn't be a true British tribute without their own unique take on the holiday. Hence, the origination of "Brits-giving." Whatever they want to call the compassionate tradition, we're happy to welcome them to our table.

a group of people standing around a table with wine glasses: thanksgiving facts © Getty thanksgiving facts

Thanksgiving Day football games began in the 1870s.

Turkey Day football began long before the whole country could watch the sport on TV. In fact, football wasn't even a professional sport when the Thanksgiving game tradition took hold. In 1876, Yale played Princeton in the first ever Thanksgiving Day football match. At that point, the sport was still evolving from a rugby hybrid into the game we know today. Games stayed on the college and high school level for nearly fifty years. Eventually, when the National Football League was founded in 1920, it began hosting as many as six Thanksgiving matches every year.

a group of baseball players playing a football game: Princeton v. Yale Football © Bettmann - Getty Images Princeton v. Yale Football

Benjamin Franklin was very pro-turkey.

Though not in the way you might think. It wasn't so much that he thought the bird was delicious, as that he admired the animal's qualities; he may have even had some qualms with the entire nation feasting on turkeys each year. Surprisingly, Franklin thought the turkey should be the United States' official bird, rather than the bald eagle.

"I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country; his is a bird of bad moral character," he once wrote. Apparently, Franklin also noted that the turkey was a "much more respectable bird."

a flock of birds standing on top of a grass covered field: Demand Increases For Organic Turkey During Festive Season © Matt Cardy - Getty Images Demand Increases For Organic Turkey During Festive Season
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