By Lee Murray
When I was growing up in England, Thanksgiving wasn’t really on my radar. Like many facets of American culture, my first impressions of Thanksgiving were from American TV shows. There are a couple that stick out to me. There is the classic “Friends” episode where Joey gets a turkey stuck on his head and Chandler cracks a harsh joke about Monica’s weight. There was also an older episode of “The Simpsons” where Bart runs away from home after ruining Thanksgiving dinner.
But when I moved to the US and experienced Thanksgiving through my wife’s family celebrations, I quickly fell in love with the holiday. I love a good feast, and it’s a great tradition to gather everyone you love around the table and celebrate.
I soon discovered, however, that—like most things—there are some interesting facts that really put the whole holiday in context. Here are six of my favorite facts about Thanksgiving for you to recount at your family’s dinner table this year that are a little out of left field.
1. Thanksgiving Is America’s Second Most Calorie-Dense Holiday
According to the Calorie Control Council, Americans take in somewhere between 3000 and 4500 calories during Thanksgiving celebrations… which is not to be sneezed at. That said, a study from Wren Kitchens found that Thanksgiving isn’t even our biggest feast of the year. That honor goes to Christmas, where the average person stuffs themselves with 5373 calories. This is pure speculation, but I suspect the difference lies in the chocolate, candy, nuts, and snacks we put away between meals over Christmas. Thanksgiving needs more treats if it’s to properly compete as a binge eating holiday.
2. Pardoned Turkeys Live Like Kings
Ever since learning about this tradition, I’ve always wondered what happens next. Are they pardoned for life, and go off to live the rest of their little turkey lives without fear of the chopping block? Or are they back in the pool the following year like nothing happened? It turns out that over the years the pardoned turkeys have been sent to various locations. Some have gone to farms, presidential libraries, or animal sanctuaries. They may become part of educational programs or live out their days in a more leisurely environment than the fate of their non-pardoned counterparts. Which is nice.
3. “Mary Had a Little Lamb” Writer is the Mother of Thanksgiving
Following the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation that made Thanksgiving an official national holiday. The idea had caught on around the nation, and there was plenty of support for it. One of the loudest voices championing an official national holiday belonged to Sarah Josepha Hale, who was a prominent writer and editor. She wrote about Thanksgiving many times and petitioned Abraham Lincoln for decades in an effort to make the holiday official, and her persistence finally won out. Fun fact: She also wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”
4. The World’s Largest Pumpkin Pie Was Big Enough to Serve 5000
In 2010, The New Bremen Pumpkin Growers of Ohio put together the world’s largest pumpkin pie, which included 1212 pounds of pumpkin, 2796 eggs, and nearly 15 pounds of cinnamon. It was estimated that it could serve 5000 people. Although that sounds like a delicious way to spend thanksgiving, I’m not sure I would have coped very well with all those dishes that would need washed afterwards.
5. Pumpkin Pie is a Part of History… But It’s Not the Most Popular Thanksgiving Pie
According to The American Pie Council, pumpkin pie has a long-standing tradition as a staple of Thanksgiving Day feasts. It was served at the second ever Thanksgiving celebration in 1623. Apparently, though, apple pie takes the top spot for Thanksgiving Day’s most popular pie. As a British import, I would hate to mess with this most American of holidays, so I think this year I’ll have a slice of both apple and pumpkin so I don’t upset the statistics. Or two.
6. Leftover Turkey Led to the First Ever TV Dinner
In 1953, someone at Swansons (a food manufacturer) made a miscalculation that left them with 260 tons of leftover turkey sitting in rail cars. Inspired by the trays of pre-prepared food served on airlines, salesman Gerry Thomas came up with the idea of assembling TV dinners consisting of turkey, mashed potatoes, and a vegetable. Swansons ordered 5000 trays and put together the world’s first TV dinner, which would be priced at an affordable 98 cents. They sold like hotcakes. Or, rather, like hot turkey dinners.
I’m a huge fan of gathering together loved ones and eating your bodyweight in carbohydrates and turkey, and this Thanksgiving will be no different. This year, pull some weird facts about Thanksgiving out of your pocket and impress everyone around the table as they tuck into their favorite Thanksgiving fare.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and enjoy spending time with the people you are most thankful for.