5 Tasty Tidbits of Thanksgiving Day Trivia

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From Ben Franklin to Black Friday: Some Thanksgiving Trivia

Need to break the ice over Thanksgiving Day dinner? Here’s a little Thanksgiving trivia for your guests to chew on.

It Wasn’t Always Turkey Day

There’s actually no proof that the English colonists and Native Americans ate turkey at the first feast.

The best existing account of the Pilgrims’ harvest feast comes from colonist Edward Winslow. His first-hand account of the first Thanksgiving included no explicit mention of turkey. He does, however, mention the Pilgrims gathering “wild fowl.”

Thanksgiving triviaAccording to historian and author Andrew Beahrs, the Wampanoag Indians brought five deer with them to the party, so venison was definitely on the menu.

And Beahrs agrees that the English brought fowl. But these were most likely migrating waterfowl (ducks and geese), which were plentiful in autumn,.

Other meats probably included lots of fish and shellfish — staples of the Pilgrims’ diets.

So why do we eat turkey instead of fish on Thanksgiving?

Wild turkeys were definitely abundant in the Plymouth area.

In his journals, English colonist William Bradford described wild turkey hunts during the autumn of 1621. Because turkey is a uniquely North American bird (not to mention, delicious), it gained traction as the Thanksgiving meal of choice after Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863.

And as a practical matter, unlike chicken, turkeys are large enough to feed full a table of hungry guests.

“Jingle Bells” Was a Thanksgiving Tune

Though it’s now considered a classic Christmas song, “Jingle Bells” was written by James Lord Pierpont in 1850 — to be sung on Thanksgiving.

The original title was “One Horse Open Sleigh.”  It was changed to “Jingle Bells, or the One Horse Open Sleigh” when it was reprinted in 1859.

The tune was supposedly written in Medford, Mass., where sleigh races were popular in the 1800s. A plaque at 19 High Street, memorializes the spot where Pierpont was said to have penned the ditty at the former Simpson Tavern.

Here’s an extra trivia tidbit …

“Jingle Bells” became the first song heard from outer space when it was played on a harmonica with accompanying bells by astronauts Wally Schirra and Thomas Stafford. On Dec. 16, 1965, the two were orbiting Earth on Gemini 6 and played the song after sending this message back home:

Did Ben Franklin Lobby for the Turkey?

Continuing with our Thanksgiving trivia, is it true that Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be America’s national symbol?

This story began to circulate in American newspapers around the time of the country’s centennial. It’s based on a letter he wrote to his daughter in which he described the eagle as a bird with “bad moral character.”

Franklin claimed that the eagle “does not get his living honestly” because it steals food from the fishing hawk and is “too lazy to fish for himself.” A turkey, on the other hand, was a “much more respectable bird” and “a true original native of America.”

“For my own part I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country,” he wrote. However, while this private letter was a spirited promotion of the turkey over the eagle, Franklin never made his views public.

Indeed, according to the Franklin Institute, the idea that Franklin promoted the turkey as our national symbol is a myth. Franklin was merely criticizing the original eagle design for the Great Seal, saying that it looked more like a turkey.

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Thanksgiving Fun Facts and Stats [Infographic]

Without Thanksgiving, There’d Be No TV Dinners

Thanksgiving is the reason we have TV dinners. Back in 1953, someone at Swanson & Sons colossally miscalculated the level of the American appetite for Thanksgiving turkey.

Thanksgiving triviaThe company was left with some 260 tons of frozen birds sitting in 10 refrigerated railroad cars.

So Swanson salesman Gerry Thomas suggested they package it in aluminum (like airline food) and sell it with sides as a complete dinner. The company ordered 5,000 aluminum trays and concocted a meal of turkey with corn-bread dressing and gravy, peas and sweet potatoes.

Recruiting an assembly line of women with spatulas and ice-cream scoops, Swanson’s launched the TV dinner at a price of 98 cents. Their grave doubts that the initial order would sell proved to be unfounded, as all were sold.

The following year, Swanson & Sons sold 10 million turkey TV dinners.

Ewwww… Why Black Friday Is Brown for Plumbers

Thanksgiving triviaBlack Friday is the busiest day of the year for plumbers – but not for the reason you might think. Roto-Rooter, the nation’s largest plumbing service, reports that service calls increase by up to 50% the day after Thanksgiving (compared to an average Friday).

But it’s not due to human waste following a hearty Thanksgiving meal. Rather, it’s the wads of potato skins, bits of turkey, and oily drippings that people put down the drain and which clog up the whole works.

Holiday meal preparation, after-dinner cleanup, and a house full of guests create “the perfect storm” for plumbing problems. As a result, plumbers are extra busy on “Brown Friday,”  unclogging our kitchen sinks, disposals, toilets and sewers.

So now you can amaze your friends and family with your wealth of Thanksgiving trivia! (Though you may want to wait until after the meal before sharing that last tidbit.)


Smithsonian Magazine
The Washington Post
The Franklin Institute
Mental Floss
Business Insider

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