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LIZ DREIER | Fun facts about Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving, we get to celebrate in person and not on a Zoom call while trying to balance our plates on our laps. Here are some fun facts about the holiday to get the table conversation started.
Liz Dreier Column 08312020
Liz Dreier

This Thanksgiving, we get to celebrate in person and not on a Zoom call while trying to balance our plates on our laps.

Here are some fun facts about the holiday to get the table conversation started.

• President George Washington issued a proclamation about a celebration of Thanksgiving in 1789. Most people liked the idea, but the holiday bounced around the calendar for years before finding a fixed date.

• In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued another proclamation for a day of thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November, but it was a woman by the name of Sarah Josepha Hale who gave him the idea. Hale was famous for her poem, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”  Lamb was not on the menu.

• In 1939, during the Great Depression, FDR moved up the date by a week to give people more time to shop for Christmas presents and boost the economy. Retailers were happy. Turkeys were not.

• In 1941, Congress passed a resolution fixing the date of Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November. Sorry, retailers.

• Macy’s Department Store began holding a parade on Thanksgiving Day in 1924. Originally, the parade included real animals from the Central Park Zoo. Unfortunately, the animals scared children in the stands, so they were replaced in 1927 with character balloons. The animals, not the children. In addition to being more appealing to crowds, no one had to follow around the balloons with a shovel, cleaning up a mess.

• Every Thanksgiving the president pardons a turkey. Right. Check out the presidential dinner table later that evening.

• Thanksgiving is the biggest travel day of the year. In fact, that whole week before the holiday, you can find a record number of people traveling over the river and through the woods, or maybe over the roads and across the skies, all trying to get back to grandma’s house for turkey and pumpkin pie. And a hug from grandma.

• Generally, the menu hasn’t changed since 1621. Historical records show the original Thanksgiving dinner consisted of whatever could be caught or grown locally. That included venison, eels, white cod, lobster, dried fruit, maize, pumpkins, (not pies, mind you) and wildfowl. Sorry, no turkeys. The party lasted for three days, two of which may have consisted of people lying around holding their aching stomachs.

• Just like today, those first celebrants played games between courses of food. The Wampanoag might have taught the Pilgrim children how to play ring toss. There was blind man’s bluff, tag, leapfrog and hide-and-seek. Adults would have held target shooting competitions, log throwing and tug-o-war. 

• In the 21st century, we enjoy watching football on turkey day. This pastime started on Nov. 29, 1934, with a game between the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears. The Bears won, 19-16.

Whatever you do this Thanksgiving, I hope you get to spend it with the people you love. Eat turkey, play games, watch football.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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