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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.