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Thanksgiving, which is observed annually on the fourth Thursday of November, is one of the most anticipated American holidays. The celebrations usually center around a delicious feast enjoyed with extended family members and friends. While the COVID-19 pandemic will put a damper on large in-person gatherings, the holiday can still be enjoyed with those living within the same household or part of the same social bubble. Here are some fun Thanksgiving tidbits to get the party started.
The first Thanksgiving feast is credited to Governor William Bradford, who invited the Wampanoag Native Americans to Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1621 to celebrate the Pilgrims’ first harvest. Though the event was not repeated, many Americans continued to observe harvest festivals at different times of the year. President George Washington tried to consolidate the celebrations by issuing a proclamation designating November 26, 1789, as a national day of public thanks-giving. However, the tradition was ignored by subsequent presidents.
It was not until Sarah Josepha Hale — the author of the nursery rhyme “Mary had a little lamb" — took up the cause in 1827, that the idea was seriously considered. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November as a national day of Thanksgiving. In 1941, to avoid confusion, US lawmakers set the date to the fourth Thursday of the month.
While the typical modern-day Thanksgiving meal centers around turkey, historians believe the first Thanksgiving meal largely comprised seafood such as mussels, lobsters, clams, oysters, bass, and even seals. Potatoes and cranberry sauce were also not on the original menu. The addition of the spuds is credited to Hale, who often wrote recipes and descriptions of ideal Thanksgiving meals that featured — you guessed it — mashed potatoes. The brilliant idea of adding cranberry sauce came from Civil War Union General Ulysses S. Grant, who ordered the condiment be served to soldiers as part of their holiday meal in 1864.
Though President Harry Truman started the Thanksgiving turkey pardoning tradition at the White House, he was not the first president to save a bird from the dinner table. That credit goes to President Abraham Lincoln, who pardoned Jack, a turkey reserved for Christmas dinner in 1863, due to his son Tad's affinity for the bird.
The tradition of bringing a spare turkey began in 1981 after one named Liberty, escaped before President Ronald Reagan could grant pardon. In recent years, the public has been able to participate in this fun event by voting online for the turkeys' names. This has resulted in some fun monikers, including Mac and Cheese, and Tater and Tot. Though this year's birds have yet to be revealed, White House officials have indicated that President Trump plans to continue this fun ritual.
In 1876, to increase the still-nascent sport's popularity, the American Intercollegiate Football Association (IFA) held the championship game between Yale and Princeton University on Thanksgiving Day. It was such a success that the event became a holiday staple. When IFA abandoned the tradition in 1934, the Detroit Lions seized the opportunity to attract more locals to their games, and a new ritual was born. Today, the National Football League holds three Thanksgiving games, two of which include the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys.
Ready, Set, Turkey Trot
Many Americans wake up early on Thanksgiving morning to participate in runs called turkey trots. The fun event, which also helps raise money for charity, was started in Buffalo, New York, in 1896 and is now held in cities across the country. While public turkey trots have been canceled this year due to the coronavirus, enthusiasts can still participate by registering for one of the many virtual events online and completing the runs in their neighborhood or even at home on a treadmill.
Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
Macy's first parade, held on Thanksgiving morning in 1924, was meant to be a one-time extravaganza to showcase the opening of its newly-acquired million square feet of retail space in New York City. The parade was so popular that the box retailer decided to make it an annual tradition. Today, it attracts over 3.5 million people in person and an estimated 50 million television viewers.
This year, to avoid gathering large crowds of spectators, Macy's will forgo the traditional 2.5-mile parade route across New York City, and, instead, restrict the festivities close to its famed flagship store on 34th Street. However, the event, which will be televised live, promises to be just as spectacular, complete with signature balloons, floats, and live performances.
Do you know a fun Thanksgiving fact or tradition? Be sure to share it with us by adding your comments below.
Have A Happy And Safe Thanksgiving!
Resources: History.com, Wikipedia.org