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Fun Thanksgiving Facts for the Dinner Table

by David Engle | Nov 27, 2019 | 4 min read

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. And not just for the food (though that certainly plays a big part). When I was young, Thanksgiving was all about gathering the family, where inevitably three generations of men would hang out in the living room rooting against the Dallas Cowboys (sorry, Cowboys fans…I grew up in Eagles country), while the women of the family retreated to the kitchen and living room to chat and help prepare the dinner before we all gathered at the table for a family feast.

When I got to college, I looked forward to Thanksgiving break more than any other time of year. I was only about two hours from home, but I couldn’t wait to get back and see the family again, catch up with old friends, and relax. I still vividly remember that feeling of excitement and anticipation. Now, I’m married with kids of my own, and we celebrate Thanksgiving twice! We alternate families each Thanksgiving Day and spend the following Saturday with the other family eating leftovers and enjoying the day. We’ve made that our tradition, and it’s one of the most anticipated holidays of the year for us.

Thanksgiving is also a time to take a break and recharge your batteries. You’ve been teaching and your children have been learning for a few months now, so everyone’s brains need a respite from homeschooling and lessons and curriculum. A family dinner and lots of holiday shopping are a wonderful cure! And when you sit down for dinner, you can wow your family with some really interesting and cool Thanksgiving facts. Like, if we celebrated Thanksgiving today exactly like the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians did back in 1621, we’d be getting ready for a three-day feast by thawing out eels and fish, prepping the deer meat, shucking oysters, and boiling lobsters. So, let’s be thankful that turkey made its way onto the menu, because…eel? No thanks.

Here are more fun Thanksgiving facts that are sure to impress your family at the dinner table…

  1. Thanksgiving wasn’t proclaimed a national holiday until 1863, some 240-plus years after the first gathering. And it may have only been proclaimed a national holiday because President Abraham Lincoln finally tired of constant letters from Sarah Josepha Hale, who happened to also write a tune you’ve probably heard (“Mary Had a Little Lamb). So, let’s all be thankful for Ms. Hale this Thanksgiving, for bringing us this wonderful holiday and a famous song!
  2. The first football game to be played on Thanksgiving was an Ivy League battle between rivals Yale and Princeton. The NFL got in on the Turkey Day action in 1920, a tradition that continues today, with both the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys hosting a game every Thanksgiving afternoon.
  3. The first president to officially pardon a turkey? George H.W. Bush in 1989. It’s a tradition that remains to this day.
  4. If you run into turkey trouble while you’re trying to cook the bird, Butterball offers a 24-hour phone line and text message service to help! In 2016, Butterball’s Turkey-Talk phone line received more than 100,000 calls—that’s a lot of Thanksgiving dinners saved from disaster!
  5. Perhaps the most famous Christmas song was actually meant to be a Thanksgiving Day song! James Pierpont composed a song titled “One-Horse Open Sleigh” back in 1857 to be enjoyed at Thanksgiving. However, the song gained so much popularity by Christmastime, it was renamed “Jingle Bells” in 1859 and is considered an all-time Christmas classic.
  6. Contrary to popular belief, the tryptophan in turkey doesn’t actually make you tired. Yes, you probably just want to sprawl on the couch in a food coma and watch football after Thanksgiving dinner…but that’s because you over-ate, not because of tryptophan.
  7. Black Friday isn’t only the busiest day for retailers…it’s also the busiest for plumbers. Explanation probably not necessary. Especially at the dinner table.
  8. Thanksgiving not only brings us a delicious feast every year…it also brought us the gift of TV dinners! In 1953, Swanson went a bit overboard on its turkey order (by more than 250 tons), so one of their salesmen named Gerry Thomas (a genius, apparently!) suggested packing the excess turkey in aluminum trays with sweet potatoes, freezing it, and selling it as a dinner. Let’s hope Mr. Thomas got a promotion!
  9. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was born in 1914, but notably absent were the signature giant balloons. Instead, live animals from the Central Park Zoo were used. Yes, elephants, monkeys, camels, and bears joined costumed Macy’s employees as they paraded through Manhattan to the famous department store on 34th Street.
  10. We all know Thanksgiving is celebrated on the last Thursday of each November. But did you know it was briefly celebrated on the second-to-last Thursday? Let’s just say it didn’t go as planned. In 1939, with America in the throes of the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving up a week in order to give people more time to shop for Christmas in hopes of stimulating the sagging economy. While the idea did not succeed in lifting the economy, it did quite well in confusing the population of an entire country, causing an uproar, and leading many to refer to this infamous day as “Franksgiving.” Thanksgiving has been celebrated on the final Thursday of November ever since.

Now that you’re armed with some fascinating Turkey Day trivia, it’s time to wow your family with that knowledge. More importantly, be sure to enjoy the holiday surrounded by loved ones, and be thankful for the opportunity to do so. Happy Thanksgiving, Bridgeway families!

Resources:, Good Housekeeping, House Beautiful.

David Engle
Hello, and thanks for reading! I’m David Engle--dad, husband, sports fan, and writer/editor. As a father for the last 18 years (father of two for the last 14), I consider myself to be pretty well-versed in all things related to education, childhood, and parenting, and I'm thankful for the opportunity to share some insights and knowledge with fellow parents. I have been a professional writer and editor for a quarter of a century (it pains me to admit that) and have been writing in the educational space for a number of those years. I reside in southern New Jersey with my wife, two kids, two dogs, and three cats. Never a dull moment.
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