10 Fun Thanksgiving Facts and Trivia to Entertain Guests
When we think about Thanksgiving, we envision a delicious meal around a table with our family and friends, football, parades, and Black Friday shopping.
Except this year…which is a bit different.
In the middle of all the traditional Thanksgiving fun, we’re betting there will be lots of post-election and pandemic conversations at your small gathering.
To avoid family infighting over stuffing, you’re going to need as many noncontroversial things to talk about as possible.
With this list of 10 Thanksgiving facts and trivia, you can entertain and educate your guests without fear of offending anyone.
You may even learn some new Thanksgiving facts!
#1 The First Thanksgiving Was a Three-Day Affair
If you find it hard enough to get through your family’s Thanksgiving meal, imagine if it was spread over three days.
On the opposite side, if you don’t feel as if Thanksgiving lasts long enough, encourage your family to celebrate like the Pilgrims did.
The first Thanksgiving was a three-day event.
In November 1621, after the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest proved successful, the Pilgrims invited their Native American allies to a celebratory feast, which is considered the first Thanksgiving.
The celebratory festival lasted three whole days.¹
#2 Thomas Jefferson Was Not a Fan of Thanksgiving
For nearly two centuries following the first Thanksgiving in 1621, the colonists celebrated days of thanksgiving.
President George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation by the national government of the United States in 1789, and his successors did the same.²
Except for one – Thomas Jefferson.
According to History.com, “Ever since Jefferson first declined to mark the day in 1801, rumors have swirled that the third president despised the event. But it was more complicated than that. For Jefferson, supporting Thanksgiving meant supporting state-sponsored religion, and it was his aversion to mixing church and state that earned him a reputation as America’s only anti-Thanksgiving president.”³
#3 Forget Balloons – the First Macy’s Day Parade Had Animals
This one is sure to be one of your guests’ favorite Thanksgiving facts.
During the first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1924, there weren’t any of the iconic balloons.
Instead, the parade included an animal circus featuring animals from the Central Park Zoo.⁴
#4 Thanksgiving Hasn’t Always Been Celebrated on the Fourth Thursday
Thanksgivings have been traditionally celebrated on the last Thursday of November since Abraham Lincoln.
However, in 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided to change things up in hopes of boosting holiday shopping by giving shoppers an extra week.
He moved Thanksgiving to the second to last Thursday of November, which meant it fell on the third Thursday rather than the fourth.
People were not happy with his decision and referred to it as Franksgiving.
According to Time, “By that fall, 22 states had decided to play along with the change in their official calendars, 23 were sticking with tradition and Mississippi hadn’t decided. (Two states, Texas and Colorado, decided to observe both holidays.) The President stuck with the change the following year, declaring Nov. 21 to be the official Thanksgiving Day for 1940.”⁵
It got so ugly that Roosevelt’s rivals and Thanksgiving traditionalists compared him to Hitler.
Ultimately, Roosevelt’s plan failed.
Time explains, “By the end of 1941, Roosevelt had signed a bill officially sticking Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November, whether or not it was the last Thursday of the month.”⁶
And that is why we now officially celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November.
#5 Thanksgiving Became a National Holiday during the Civil War
While Americans had been celebrating a day of Thanksgiving since 1621, Thanksgiving did not become a national holiday until 1863.
President Abraham Lincoln made an official proclamation during the height of the Civil War declaring Thanksgiving a national holiday to be celebrated the last Thursday of November.
#6 Desserts Were Missing from the First Thanksgiving
When we think about Thanksgiving feasts, we don’t stop with the turkey. We envision a dessert table covered with sweets.
One of the saddest Thanksgiving facts is that sweets were missing from the first Thanksgiving.
Based on the journals from Pilgrim colonists, historians believe that the Mayflower’s sugar supply had shrunk significantly in 1621 by the time they had their Thanksgiving feast.
That means there were no pies, cakes, or other desserts we’ve come to associate with Thanksgiving.⁷
#7 There May Have Been Other “First” Thanksgivings
While we credit the Pilgrims celebratory feasts with their Native American allies in 1621, some historians disagree.
According to History.com, “In 1565, nearly 60 years before Plymouth, a Spanish fleet came ashore and planted a cross in the sandy beach to christen the new settlement of St. Augustine. To celebrate the arrival and give thanks for God’s providence, the 800 Spanish settlers shared a festive meal with the native Timucuan people.”⁸
#8 Football Has Been a Thanksgiving Tradition since 1876
Football is a Thanksgiving highlight for many. It’s been that way for a long time.
Before football even existed as we know it today, Harvard and Yale played a game on Thanksgiving Day 1876 (just 3 years after it was officially declared a national holiday).
After this game, it became a tradition to have rivals play against one another on the holiday.
Once the NFL was founded in 1920, they began hosting Thanksgiving football games ever since.⁹
#9 Sarah Hale Is the Mother of Our Traditional Thanksgiving
Author Sarah Josepha Hale, who wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” is named the “Mother of Thanksgiving” for lobbying to make it a national holiday for 36 years.¹⁰
Not only did she finally convince President Lincoln to do so, but she is also why turkey is a Thanksgiving staple.
According to Britannica, “In her 1827 novel Northwood, she devoted an entire chapter to a description of a New England Thanksgiving, with a roasted turkey ‘placed at the head of the table.’”¹¹
#10 No Thanksgiving without Pumpkin Pie
For some people, Thanksgiving simply isn’t Thanksgiving without the pumpkin pie.
That may seem extreme, but here’s one of the craziest Thanksgiving facts on our list.
Pumpkin pie was such a staple at the Thanksgiving dinner table that the Connecticut town of Colchester postponed Thanksgiving for a week in 1705 simply because there was not enough molasses to make it.¹²
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