Thanksgiving Facts & Trivia

Way back in 2015 I wrote a series of three blogs on random Thanksgiving related trivia. While facts of the past do not change (usually), trivia related to statistics can. I figured it was time to peruse the internet for any fun-facts I might have missed previously and to update those long ago blogs. Enjoy!

Thanksgiving is a big weekend for movie releases, especially flicks the whole family can enjoy together. As of the end of 2021, the 2013 Disney animated musical Frozen is the #1 Thanksgiving release of all time, pulling in $93 million domestically. Frozen, of course, is not a Thanksgiving-themed movie.

Unlike Christmas-theme movies, films with Thanksgiving as central to the plot are fewer and farther between. My personal favorite, and indeed on most lists as #1 or #2, is Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987) starring Steve Martin and the late, great John Candy. An interesting side note: This movie was the first foray for writer and director John Hughes into holiday themed movies, the success encouraging him to pen Home Alone in 1990.

Miracle on 34th Street rightfully belongs high on both holiday movie lists. The original (and best version, IMO) was released in July of 1947, the classic “Santa Claus is real” story beginning on Thanksgiving Day with the opening scenes featuring the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in NYC. Yesterday’s post was on the Macy’s parade history.


Jingle Bells was composed by James Lord Pierpont of Massachusetts in 1857 for the Thanksgiving church performance by his Sunday school class. He wrote the song with simplicity in mind so that his students would have no trouble memorizing the tune, and published it originally with the title One Horse Open Sleigh. The song was well-received at the Thanksgiving concert so the children sang it again at Christmas. In 1859, Pierpont republished the ditty retitled as Jingle Bells, and in short order it became a standard during the Christmas season.


Green bean casserole was invented in 1955 by Campbell Soup. The Cream of Mushroom soup recipe was originally created for an Associated Press holiday food feature, credited to Dorcas Reilly, a supervisor at the New Jersey Campbell Soup home economics kitchen. Campbell’s estimates that it sells more than $20 million dollars of mushroom soup during the Thanksgiving season, equaling 40% of the yearly total sales.

It is estimated over 30 million households make green bean casserole every year.

OFFICIAL RECIPE


TURKEY FACTS & TRIVIA:

Only male turkeys can gobble. Female turkeys cluck and make a purring sound when contented, just like a cat.

Turkeys were not bred just for their meat but also for their beautiful feathers, of which they have up to 6000.

A male turkey is called a tom, a female is a hen, and a youngster is a poult.

The wild turkey has a life span of 3-4 years on average, can fly for short distances up to 55 miles per hour, and can run 20 miles per hour. The domestic turkey has an average life span from birth to freezer of only 26 weeks, and is not an agile flyer other than to perch in trees to stay safe from predators.

There are several theories and legends of how turkeys got their name, including Christopher Columbus dubbing what he thought was a type of pheasant a “tuka” after the India (Hindi) word for peacock. Most likely the name came from Europeans identifying the native New World birds as a guineafowl akin to those imported into Europe by Turkish traders from the far east. This too is just one possibility, so basically it is a mystery.

Turkey contains the essential amino acid L-Tryptophan, which does make you sleepy. However, there’s not enough tryptophan in a serving of turkey to cause drowsiness, and in order for tryptophan to really make you sleepy you need to eat it on an empty stomach (unlikely at Thanksgiving). The sleepiness after Thanksgiving dinner is a result of overeating (and wine) rather than the turkey.

Benjamin Franklin privately preferred the turkey for the chosen national bird rather than the bald eagle. This sentiment was expressed in a letter to his daughter, but as far as is known, he never publicly or officially made a case for the turkey.

“For my own part, I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country; he is a bird of bad moral character; he does not get his living honestly…like those among men who live by sharping and robbing…he is generally poor, and often very lousy. Besides, he is a rank coward; the little king-bird, not bigger than a sparrow, attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district…For in truth, the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America. Eagles have been found in all countries, but the turkey was peculiar to ours…”

Popular turkey company Butterball founded the Turkey Talk Line in 1981 to answer turkey-related questions. That year the hotline received a modest 11,000 questions. Opening each November and December ever since, the cooking experts now answer more than 100,000 questions from across the US and Canada.

  • As of this year, an estimated 40 million turkeys will be eaten in the US at Thanksgiving.
  • At current prices, Americans will spend as estimated $1.1 billion on turkeys alone in 2022.
  • 50% of all whole turkeys sold throughout the year are at Thanksgiving.
  • 88% of American families will eat a turkey on Thanksgiving.
  • One out of three purchased turkeys are Butterball brand.
  • Turkey is also a popular pick for other holidays as well, with 22 million eaten on Christmas and 19 million eaten each Easter.

Fans of the TV dinner can thank the turkey. . . sort of. In 1953, someone at Swanson misjudged the number of frozen turkeys it would sell that Thanksgiving — by 26 TONS! Swanson executive Gerry Thomas came up with a brilliant plan: Why not slice up the meat and repackage with some trimmings on the side? Cornbread stuffing, frozen peas, and sweet potatoes were packaged in a tray similar to those used for airline meals and were sold for 98 cents. The TV dinner was born!


Thanksgiving football games began with Yale versus Princeton in 1876. Less than a decade later, more than 5,000 club, college, and high school football teams held games on Thanksgiving, with match-ups between Princeton and Yale drawing more than 40,000 fans out from their dining rooms.

1934 marked the first NFL game held on Thanksgiving when the Detroit Lions took on the Chicago Bears. The Lions have consistently been the hosting team, the challenger varying each year. The only exception was from 1939-1944 during WWII when no games were played on Thanksgiving.

In 1966 a second game was added to the Thanksgiving Day NFL lineup, the Dallas Cowboys being the hosting team and assuming that spot for most of the day’s games since. A third Thanksgiving Day game was added in 2006, but in this slot there isn’t a designated hosting team.


CRANBERRY FACTS & TRIVIA:

The Pilgrims named the fruit “craneberry” because their drooping heads in the spring reminded them of a crane. Cranberries were not eaten by Native Americans but used to treat arrow wounds and to dye clothes.

The cranberry harvest lasts only six weeks. In an effort to benefit from year-round sales, Marcus Urann of the Cape Cod Cranberry Company produced the first canned jellied cranberry sauce in 1912. Urann went on to co-found the Ocean Spray cranberry growers cooperative, the world’s largest grower of cranberries.

Only 5% of cranberries grown are sold fresh, the remaining percent are sold as cranberry juice, cranberry sauce, etc. Ocean Spray produces over 70 million cans of jellied cranberry sauce each year and sells 80% the week of Thanksgiving. Roughly 200 cranberries are needed to make one can of cranberry sauce.

There are probably a million recipes for cranberry sauce and relish found on the internet. I have a blog with a few recipes: Cranberry Crazy


We are well aware of the day after Thanksgiving, the aptly named Black Friday, as the busiest day for shopping the Christmas season sales. What may come as a surprise is that Black Friday is also the busiest day of the year for plumbers. Statistically, plumbers receive up to 50% more calls. The cause, however, isn’t what you may be thinking! Paul Abrams, director of public relations for the plumbing company Roto-Rooter, has said, “The number one reason for calls is kitchen sink drains and garbage disposals.” Be careful to properly dispose of all your food scraps this year!


PUMPKIN PIE FACTS & TRIVIA:

How important is pumpkin pie to Thanksgiving? Well, according to the town of Colchester, Connecticut important enough to postpone the feast for a week. This was in 1705 and the New England colony was suffering a molasses shortage, which meant no pumpkin pie, so until the frozen river thawed allowing a shipment of supplies to arrive, Thanksgiving was put on hold.

Pumpkin is a fruit, is 90% water, and grows on 6 of the 7 continents. Pumpkins are not only orange. They also come in green, red, yellow, white, blue, and tan.

Early colonial settlers did not make pies as we do today. Rather, they used the pumpkin shell as the “crust” and filled the hollowed pumpkin with milk, spices and honey to blend with the pumpkin meat, baking the whole in hot ashes of an open fire.

Recipes for pumpkin pie dating to the late 1700s are nearly identical to the custard-like pumpkin pie filling made today. Americans eat an estimated 50 million pumpkin pies on Thanksgiving.

35% to 45% of Americans prefer pumpkin pie as the favorite for Thanksgiving. The remaining percentage is spread among pecan, apple, cherry, chocolate, and others. Whatever the ultimate pie preferences, 37% claim to make their pies completely from scratch, which is fairly impressive in my mind. Approximately another 30% use store-bought short cuts such as pre-made crusts and fillings, but do combine and cook fresh. Not surprisingly, western US states, including Hawaii, are far more likely to buy pre-made pies with nearly half the from-scratch pies clustered in the midwest and northeastern states.


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Sharon Lathan

Sharon Lathan is the best-selling author of The Darcy Saga, a ten-volume sequel series to Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.

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cindie snyder

How interesting! I didn’t know some of these things!

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