Friday, November 18, 2011

Fun Friday Facts #17: Thanksgiving Edition

Endless Christmas music is playing on the radio. Our homes and streets are decked with boughs of holly. Kids are sitting on the laps of costumed men in malls across the country – it can only mean one thing. That's right, folks, Thanksgiving is almost here!

Bet you didn't know that:

1) Americans eat about 280 million turkeys each Thanksgiving. The average Thanksgiving turkey weighs in at about 15 pounds (6.8 kilos), yet, somehow, the average American manages to eat 16 to 18 pounds (7.3 to 8.2 kilos) of turkey each year. We are, apparently, a nation of wizards.

Pictured: Average American. ~ Piotrus

2) While the first Thanksgiving supposedly occurred at Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts in 1621, the holiday didn't become official until 1863. President Abraham Lincoln designated the final Thursday in November as the nation's official “Thank God we're not gonna starve this winter” celebration. Thanksgiving Day was America's third national holiday, after Independence Day and George Washington's birthday.

3) The establishment of a Thanksgiving holiday was the work of Sarah Josepha Hale, the author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” I bet you didn't even know there was an author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

There totally was.

Ms. Hale was a native of New England, where the Thanksgiving holiday was typically celebrated sometime between October and January, depending on the preferences of individual states. The holiday was unknown outside of New England, and Sarah Josepha Hale believed that ought to change. So much so, that she spent almost 40 years petitioning federal and state governments for the creation of a Thanksgiving holiday. As editor of Lady's Magazine and, later, Godey's Lady's Book, Ms. Hale published yearly editorials about the importance of Thanksgiving. She lobbied Congress regularly, wrote yearly to each and every U.S. governor, and wrote to five successive U.S. Presidents, hoping to win them over. The fifth and final President on Hale's list, Lincoln, finally agreed, since he didn't have any other pressing problems to attend to.

Hmmm...what shall I do today? Wait! I know!

4) Congress officially designated the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day in 1941, after President Franklin D. Roosevelt attempted to push the holiday back a week, to the second to last Thursday in November, in 1939, 1940, and 1941. He hoped to stimulate the Depression-era economy by giving folks an extra week to shop for Christmas gifts. It didn't work, however, because most states just kept celebrating Thanksgiving on the final Thursday of the month, while some states went ahead and started having two Thanksgivings.

Like Texas. Texas had two Thanksgivings. ~ TUBS

5) The average Thanksgiving dinner includes pumpkin pie, turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and sweet potatoes. Naturally, none of these things were actually served at the “first” Thanksgiving. Well, except for the turkey. They had plenty of turkey.

Gobble. ~ Nordelch

What we know about the “first” Thanksgiving comes from a short passage in William Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation and from a letter written by Edward Winslow in 1621. The two men describe the meal as consisting of venison, bass, cod, fowl, wild turkeys, and corn. The menu may have also included nuts, dried fruits, goat's cheese, eggs, carrots, radishes, cabbage, and beans.

Pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and all those other things we think of as traditional Thanksgiving fare became traditional because Sarah Josepha Hale said so, in all of those editorials she kept writing.

Long live the Thanksgiving Queen.