Thanksgiving hasn’t always conjured up images of a picture-perfect family gathered around the table, joyously partaking of turkey and pumpkin pie. The history and celebration of our American Thanksgiving is fraught with amusing traditions and colorful characters. Here are nine things you might not know about everyone’s favorite November holiday:
- The first Thanksgiving was long! The first celebration at Plymouth lasted three full days. Since the Calorie Control Council estimates we consume between 3,000 and 4.500 calories on this holiday, waistlines everywhere pause in gratitude that it’s now just a one-day feast. (Although leftovers seem to appear forever and ever, amen.)
- Politicians thought a day for thanksgiving was ridiculous. Think today’s politicians are dark, ungrateful souls? During the 1800s, newspaper editor Sarah Hale wrote letters to five different presidents over three decades, trying to convince them to declare a national day of thanksgiving. Thomas Jefferson actually called it “the most ridiculous idea ever.” Undaunted, she continued until 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln finally proclaimed the holiday as a way of uniting America after the Civil War.
- Thanksgiving Day is the most-traveled day of the year. Though the media makes it seem like the Wednesday before Turkey Day is the busiest day, 91 percent of Thanksgiving trips are made by car and more of them happen on Thanksgiving Day. Multiple hours trapped together in the car might explain why so many families show up to dinner already looking for a fight.
- Traditional foods aren’t traditional at all. Nearly all of the foods we consider traditional for Thanksgiving aren’t foods that were eaten at the first Thanksgiving. Lobster, deer, swans, shellfish, eels, radishes, maple syrup, goat cheese and cabbage are all thought to have appeared on the original Thanksgiving table. Strangely enough, Eel-Stuffed Swans with Maple Syrup and Goat Cheese never quite caught on as a celebratory favorite, but something other than turkey still appears on about 10 percent of American Thanksgiving tables. An average of 46 million birds are gobbled up on Turkey Day alone. In contrast, it’s taken 20 years for Tofurkey to sell 3.5 million of its tofu-based roast substitutes.
- Macy’s first animals weren’t filled with hot air. The animals at the first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1924 weren’t oversized balloons. They were real elephants, camels and lions provided by the Central Park Zoo, escorted through New York City by 400 costumed Macy’s employees.
- Macy’s first balloons were explosively good. In 1927, Felix the Cat appeared as Macy’s first giant balloon. The following year, Felix and the expanding cast of his balloon friends were filled with helium and set free at the end of the parade—unexpectedly exploding right after.
- It’s not the turkey’s fault! Overstuffed people have long blamed turkey as the cause of the legendary after-dinner food coma. Post-feast exhaustion actually results from stuffing down a week’s worth of carbohydrates in one sitting, enhanced by chugging that extra glass of wine to drown out Aunt Martha’s incessant rambling. Turkey Day cooks also know that getting up at 5 a.m. to start roasting the bird only exacerbates the need for a serious afternoon nap.
- Black Friday for plumbers? The day after Thanksgiving, isn’t just a banner day for retailers. According to Roto-Rooter, America’s largest plumbing service, it’s also the busiest day for plumbers. Apparently, all our feasting strains more than just our zippers. After all, those 736 million pounds of turkey have to end up somewhere, right?
Kari Apted is a nationally-published writer, Georgia native, and mother of four. Visit her online at KariApted.com.