Tom’s (mostly true) Turkey Day trivia

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, circa 1927

Whether you like white meat or dark meat, drumsticks, breast, or thigh, whether you call it stuffing or dressing (although if you call it dressing, you’re probably wrong -- I’ve never seen a box of “Stove Top Dressing”), Thanksgiving is a time for and friends and family to come together over dinner for a time of togetherness and thankfulness.

As you get ready to make your aunt’s favorite green bean casserole or butter the rolls, and put them in the oven at 350 degrees for ten minutes or until golden brown, consider some of these interesting bits of Thanksgiving trivia to chew on along with this year’s turkey.

Top Ten Turkey Day Trivial Tidbits:

1. The first Thanksgiving was a three-day celebration.

These days, Thanksgiving is one day — maybe two, for those who count Black Friday, but apparently the Pilgrims wanted to party even harder.

“Party on, Jedidiah!”

“Party on, Constance, and passeth the cranberry sauce!”

Governor William Bradford organized the feast, inviting the Plymouth colonists’ Native American allies. but it was only until the Wampanoag Indian guests came and joined the Pilgrims that they decided to extend the affair.

2. It’s uncertain if the colonists and Native Americans ate turkey at their feast.

To date, there remains no definitive proof that the bird most of us wait all year to eat was even offered to the original Thanksgiving guests back in 1621.

Instead, evidence exists that did partake in other interesting main courses like lobster, seal and swan. Mmmm, swan.

3. The woman who composed “Mary Had a Little Lamb” is also responsible for Thanksgiving’s recognition as a national holiday.

In 1863, writer and editor Sarah Josepha Hale convinced President Abraham Lincoln to officially declare Thanksgiving a national holiday. Prior to 1863, it had only been celebrated in New England. Each state scheduled its own holiday, some as early as October and others as late as January, and it was then largely unknown in the American South.

Hale’s advocacy for the national holiday began in 1846 and lasted 17 years before it was successful.

In support of the proposed national holiday, Hale began writing letters to five consecutive presidents of the United States: Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and Abraham Lincoln.

While her initial letters failed to persuade, the letter she wrote to Lincoln convinced him to support legislation establishing a national holiday of Thanksgiving in 1863, and the then-new national holiday was considered a unifying day, following the stress of the American Civil War. Thanks, Sarah!

Hale is additionally remembered for authoring the children’s poem, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

4. The first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade didn’t feature any (gasp) balloons.

First held in 1924, the now traditional parade didn’t have balloons, but did feature animals from the Central Park Zoo. Four years later, German American illustrator Tony Starg and who also had a passion for puppetry, created the floats which were first part of the parade in 1927, although considering how unsettling some of them looked (see photo), it’s impressive that balloons remained a part of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade tradition.

5. A Thanksgiving mix-up inspired the first TV dinners.

In 1953, a Swanson employee erroneously ordered a colossal shipment of Thanksgiving turkeys — 260 tons of them, to be exact.

To get rid of them all, salesman Gerry Thomas came up with the idea of filling 5,000 aluminum trays with the turkey, along with other Thanksgiving accouterments, such as cornbread dressing, gravy, peas and sweet potatoes. They were sold for 98 cents, and were a hit. Within one year, over ten million were sold.

6. About 46 million turkeys are cooked for Thanksgiving each year.

Also, looking at Turkey Day by the numbers, the average weight of each turkey cooked is 30 pounds, 316,000 acres of potatoes are harvested in Idaho to make the mashed potatoes to be consumed on Thanksgiving, 46.3 million Americans travel for Thanksgiving, and consumers spend a total of $2.4 billion in preparation of Thanksgiving.

Even so, not all Americans partake of turkey on Thanksgiving.

According to the National Turkey Federation, only 88 people of Americans chow down on turkey, with the other 12 percent ...I dunno ...being robots, I guess?

7. It’s possible to consume up to 229 grams fat during the big meal.

Or as I call it, “any given Thursday.”

8. Some of the turkeys pardoned by the president go on to do some pretty cool things.

President George H.W. Bush “officially” pardoned the first turkey in 1989, and it’s a tradition that persists today, but whatever happens to the lucky birds who don’t get served with a side of mashed potatoes?

In 2005 and 2009, the pardoned turkeys were sent to Disneyland and Walt Disney World parks to serve as grand marshal in their annual Thanksgiving parades, and from 2010 to 2013, they vacationed at Washington’s Mount Vernon state.

I’m thinking there’s a joke in here about what the turkey pardoned by Donald Trump might wind up doing, but I’ll just move on...

9. Only the male turkeys actually gobble.

You may think that any ol’ turkey goes “gobble, gobble” — but this isn’t not entirely true. Only the male turkeys, fittingly called gobblers, actually make the sound. Female turkeys cackle instead, probably laughing at the male turkeys for not asking for directions.

Most American children learn turkey identification early, by tracing outlines of their hands to make Thanksgiving cards. These big, spectacular birds are an increasingly common sight the rest of the year, as well, as flocks stalk the woods and clearings of rural North America like miniature dinosaurs.

Courting males will puff themselves into feathery balls and fill the air with excited gobbling. The wild turkey’s popularity at the table led to a drastic decline in numbers, but they have since recovered and populate in every state except Alaska.

10. The Butterball Turkey Talk Line answers 100,000 calls each season.

This is a real thing. For more than 30 years, the professionally trained turkey experts that make up the Turkey Talk-Line have been answering turkey related questions each holiday season. Open every November and December, Butterball’s experts answer more than 100,000 questions, for thousands of households around the United States and Canada.

In recent years, the Butterball’s popular cooking crisis management team also introduced a 24-hour text message line for the lead-up into the big day.

And in case you’re interested, that hotline number is 1-800-BUTTERBALL.

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