Wednesday, November 26, 2014
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Thanksgiving fun facts

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[November 26, 2014]  LINCOLN - Thanksgiving is a long-honored tradition in the United States. Most people know the story of the first Thanksgiving held at Plymouth Rock. It was a celebratory feast prepared by the Pilgrims and shared with their Native American friends, the Wampanoag tribe.

But the holiday has a long and storied history. Here are a few fun facts about Thanksgiving.

It could have been a turkey

The national bird for the United States is the bald eagle, but did you know, it could have been the turkey?

In 1784, Benjamin Franklin maintained that the national bird should be a wild turkey. Franklin maintained the turkey was a “much more respectable bird” than the bald eagle, and he said the bird was a “true native of America and a bird with great courage."

The Lincoln and Roosevelt Thanksgiving decrees

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln decreed the last Thursday in November each year would be designated as a National Day of Thanksgiving.

However, in 1939 there were five Thursdays in November. At the prompting of the National Retail Dry Goods Association, President Franklin Roosevelt decreed that the holiday should always be celebrated on the fourth Thursday of the month. The change was made in order to extend the Christmas shopping season by one week.

A Thanksgiving goof prompted the creation of the TV dinner

In November of 1953, C.A. Swanson & Sons, a wholesaler of turkeys, over-estimated the market and ended up with over 260 tons of turkey left in their warehouse after Thanksgiving. The company challenged its employees to come up with an innovative way to market the surplus.

Swanson Salesman Gerry Thomas was on a Pan Am flight from Nebraska to Pennsylvania and observed a single compartment tray being used on a trial basis by the airline to serve passengers a warm meal in flight.

Thomas swiped one of the trays and then re-created it into a multi-compartment tray that would keep the peas separate from the potatoes and gravy. He presented the tray and a marketing plan that drew attention to the increasing popularity of television in the United States. The dinners were marketed as a quick and easy way to enjoy a meal during a favorite show.

In the first 12 months, the company sold over one million Swanson TV dinners.

Macy’s was not the first Thanksgiving Day Parade

The first Thanksgiving Parade was hosted by Gimbel’s Department Store in Philadelphia in 1920. The Macy’s Day Parade came along four years later in 1924 and was held on Christmas Day.

Puppets, not balloons

The first balloons in the Macy’s parade were not balloons, but giant puppets. In 1927 renowned puppeteer Anthony Sarg designed Felix the Cat and other characters. The large inflatable characters were made of silk and filled with oxygen. The puppets were held up by “puppeteers” consisting of Macy’s employees.

The helium filled balloons were introduced in 1928.

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The Turducken may not have been an American original

While Paul Prudhomme was the first to pen the recipe for the Turducken, was he really the first? Prudhomme’s recipe was published in the 1980’s and called for the stuffing together of three birds -- a chicken inside a duck inside a turkey.

However, there is a long European history going back to the 1700’s of boning and binding fowl into one dish. In the 1850’s a recipe for Yorkshire Pie was published using six birds -- a partridge, pigeon, chicken, duck, goose and turkey, all boned and stuffed inside one another and covered with a heavy crust.

The European versions varied widely, with the wealthy and well-to-do enjoying dishes that sometimes included as many as 16 meats that were a blend of fowl and other wild game.

Thanksgiving football

The tradition of football on Thanksgiving Day is almost as old as the sport itself. The first Thanksgiving Day game was played in 1876 between teams belonging to the newly formed American Intercollegiate Football Association. That was the Association’s first championship game marking the end of the season.

By the 1890’s, there were more than 5,000 clubs, colleges, and high schools playing their championship games on Thanksgiving Day.

The National Football League joined in the tradition in 1934, and that first game was between the Detroit Lions and the Chicago Bears. The game was played in the University of Detroit stadium with 26,000 fans in attendance.

Detroit Lions are their own Thanksgiving Day tradition

The Detroit Lions became so in 1934 when Detroit radio executive George Richards purchased the Portsmouth Spartans, moved the team to Detroit and renamed it the Detroit Lions.

The team played and won their first ever Thanksgiving Day game that year defeating the Chicago Bears 16-1. The Lions also beat the Bears in 1935, 1936, and 1938. In 1937, the Bears got lucky and went home the victor.

During World War II, there were no Thanksgiving Day football games. The tradition resumed in 1945. The Lions played that year against the Cleveland Rams and lost 28-21. The Lions have played every Thanksgiving Day since 1945.

[Nila Smith]

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