Thanksgiving Facts for Fun and Education

Amy Finley

Fun Thanksgiving Facts and History

Thanksgiving facts are sometimes forgotten in the current day celebration of the holiday. Thanksgiving is celebrated in the United States each year as a day to give thanks for the bounty on the table and the good tidings a family has received. Discover the amazing history behind the holiday, as well as some fun Thanksgiving facts and random Thanksgiving trivia! Learning more about the holiday can be a great Thanksgiving activity.

The Mayflower Arrives in 1621

Do you know the Thanksgiving story? The Pilgrims, also known as Separatists, traveled from Southampton, England to the new world on board the Mayflower. The ship held 102 passengers and approximately 30 crew members.

It was a long journey - it took over six months by sea! The ship left England on September 6, 1620 and arrived in Cape Cod on November 11 after going off-course. On March 21, 1621 the ship finally arrived in Plymouth harbor.

Plymouth Rock Facts

Voyagers to the new world arrived at Plymouth Harbor in Massachusetts aboard the Mayflower. After setting anchor, smaller boats called shallops were used to get to land. Plymouth Rock is famous because it sits at the location where the Pilgrims from the Mayflower disembarked. It is made of Dedham granodiorite.

At one time Plymouth rock weighed over 20,000 pounds! Today it is much smaller than it was in 1621, due to travelers chipping away at the once much larger rock for souvenirs.

A New Life in Plymouth Plantation

The Plymouth Colony was also known as New Plymouth. Twenty-seven of the voyagers were in search of religious freedom. They were led by pastor John Robinson, church elder William Brewster and William Bradford. The other 75 voyagers were people who wanted to find adventure and a better life in a new land.

Native Indians in Plymouth

The Wampanoag Indians were the first people the Pilgrims met upon landing in Plymouth. Introductions were made between the groups by a native known as Samoset. The chief of Samoset's tribe, the Wampanoags, was Massasoit. Tisquantum (also known as Squanto), a local Patuxet Indian, agreed to stay with the colonists to translate for them while they established their colony.

The First Harvest Celebration

If you're wondering why people celebrate Thanksgiving, these facts can help. The first Thanksgiving would have been a harvest celebration and not called "thanksgiving." It is believed that this celebration occurred in October of 1621. In attendance were the 53 surviving colonists, chief Massasoit and 90 of his tribe. They didn't eat turkey at the first harvest - according to the Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford, the group ate of venison, fowl and fish.

The first harvest celebration at Plymouth Colony is considered the basis for our modern day Thanksgiving. During this celebration the Pilgrims gave thanks for those who had survived the first winter, the food they had collected and for the meat brought to them by the native Wampanoag Indians. The first harvest celebration was longer than modern Thanksgiving - it lasted three days!

When Did Thanksgiving Become an Official Holiday?

Although the first unofficial Thanksgiving celebration took place in 1621, the holiday wouldn't become official for over 200 more years! It was only during Abraham Lincoln's term in office that he declared Thanksgiving a National Holiday, declaring the fourth Thursday of November as the day the holiday would be celebrated in 1863. The United States Congress made Thanksgiving an official national holiday in 1941.

Writer Sarah Josepha Hale (who wrote the song "Mary Had a Little Lamb") wrote over 17 letters to President Lincoln to convince him to make Thanksgiving a national holiday.

Fun Facts About Macy's Thanksgiving Parade

Do you watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade on TV? This famous parade has been going on for about 100 years! It was first established in the 1920s, and the early parades featured live animals from the Central Park Zoo. Other fun parade facts include:

  • Snoopy is the character who has appeared the most in the paraded with 39 appearances.
  • The balloons in the parade have to be guided by special "balloon pilots."
  • The parade takes an entire year to plan.
  • The original parade route was six miles long. Now it's only 2.5 miles.
  • If you visit New York city, you can see the balloons get inflated the day before the parade.

Thanksgiving Helped Create Frozen Dinners

In 1953, the food company Swanson ended up with too much turkey - they had ordered 260 tons! To make use of the turkey, the company came up with the idea of frozen dinners, using the turkey and dressing with gravy, peas, and sweet potatoes in an aluminum tray. Next time you eat a frozen dinner, you can think of how Thanksgiving made it possible.

Thanksgiving Pumpkin Pie Facts

You probably know that pumpkin pie is a Thanksgiving food kids love to eat, but did you know the first modern pumpkin pie recipe was made in 1796? It was called "Pompkin Pudding." They may have eaten pumpkins at the First Harvest, but pumpkin pie hadn't been invented yet. More fun facts about pumpkin pie:

  • The top states for producing pumpkins in America are Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, California, and Pennsylvania, with Illinois producing the most pumpkins.
  • Over 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkin are produced each year in the U.S.!
  • Around 50 million pies are eaten each year at Thanksgiving.
  • The world's largest pumpkin pie weight 3,669 pounds. It was made with over a thousand pounds of pumpkin and over 500 pounds of sugar. It was created at the New Breman Pumpkinfest in 2010 in Ohio.

Random Turkey Facts for Thanksgiving

Turkey is not only a healthy food for kids to eat, but it's the most popular main dish served at Thanksgiving. Did you know:

  • Americans eat over 46 million turkeys each Thanksgiving.
  • Each year on Thanksgiving, the President pardons a turkey and sets it free.
  • A male turkey is called a tom, and a female is a hen. Only toms gobble!
  • There are four cities in the U.S. named Turkey.
  • Turkeys have been around for over 10 million years.
  • The world's largest turkey weighed 86 pounds.

Can You Eat Thanksgiving Dinner Without a Fork?

Do you think you could eat your Thanksgiving dinner without a fork? Well, that's what they did at the first harvest celebration! The Pilgrims and Native Americans only had spoons and knives to eat their harvest meal, no forks.

Cornucopia Facts

The cornucopia, also known as the Horn of Plenty, is typically associated with Harvest and Thanksgiving. Today you might see it as a centerpiece of decoration on Thanksgiving made of cone or horn-shaped wicker basket with real or fake fruit and vegetables inside. You might even make one as a Thanksgiving craft.

The original cornucopia, however, was from Greek history, and was made of a Goat's horn! According to Greek mythology, Zeus gave his nymph nurses the horn from the goat whose milk he drank as a child, and it would magically fill with whatever the owner desired.

Thanksgiving Around the World

America isn't the only country that celebrates Thanksgiving. More than eight other countries around the world celebrate a Thanksgiving or Harvest celebration holiday, including:

  • Canada - The Canadian Thanksgiving Holiday takes place the second Monday in October.
  • China - China celebrates a Mid-Autumn Festival in late September or Early October each year (using the lunar calendar).
  • Germany - Germany celebrates Erntedankfest the first Sunday in October.
  • Japan - Japan celebrtates Kinrō Kansha no Hi, an ancient Harvest Festival, on November 23rd.
  • South Korea - Chuseok Day is the South Korean's Harvest Festival.
  • Vietnam - Vietname celebrates the Têt-Trung-Thu Festival or the Children's Festival in the eight month of the lunar Calendar.

Football and Thanksgiving

Watching a pro football game on Thanksgiving is a popular tradition, and it's been around for a while. The first Thanksgiving football game was believed to be played by Yale and Princeton's college teams in 1876, but by the time the NFL was established in the 1920s, pro football on Thanksgiving was a recurring tradition. The Detroit Lions are the team that has played the most Thanksgiving games, and holds a record of 57 wins, 38 losses, and 2 ties for games on the big day. They have also hosted the most Thanksgiving games.

Ben Franklin Wanted the Turkey as National Bird

It's easy to think of turkeys when you think of Thanksgiving, but did you ever consider it as the national bird? The bald eagle is America's bird symbol, but if Ben Franklin had his way, it wouldn't be. According to a letter Ben Franklin wrote to his daughter, he said that the turkey was a much more respectable bird and he wished it was the national bird instead of the bald eagle!

A Thanksgiving Fish Story

Native American Squanto is often mentioned in association with Thanksgiving, as he taught the pilgrims how to plant crops and obtain food to help survive the first harsh winter. What is little known fact, however, is the important role that fish and eel played in the survival of the Pilgrims. Squanto taught them to fertilize their crops by using a small fish in the ground when planting seeds, and he also showed them that eels could help them survive. Eels were curl up in cold water, making them easier to catch, and are a fatty, nutritious fish. Squanto was even said to have caught eels with his hands!

Turducken Feast

Ready to get cooking at Thanksgiving? While turkey is the most popular main dish for the Thanksgiving feast, with almost 90 percent of Americans eating it on the holiday, the Turducken continues to grow in popular as an alternative. A Turducken is a meat dish that consists of a chicken stuffed into a duck, which is stuffed into a turkey, and then roasted. Sometimes stuffing or other items are also cooked with it, too.

Thanksgiving Trivia and Facts Help You Celebrate

No matter how you and your family celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, knowing more about the history behind it, as well as knowing some fun facts and Thanksgiving trivia, can help make the day more interesting. Thanksgiving is the second most popular and celebrated holiday in the U.S., right behind Christmas. Show off your knowledge by writing about Thanksgiving, or make it into a fun Thanksgiving party game by quizzing someone in your family to see how many historical and random Thanksgiving facts they know!

Amy Finley
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Thanksgiving Facts for Fun and Education