15 Top Thanksgiving History Facts To Refresh Your Memory

By Youmn November 22, 2018 View all posts (127)

If you’re anything like us, you may have been skimming the internet for the best turkey recipesThanksgiving table decor inspiration or tips to land the best Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals. Now you can check out some Thanksgiving history facts that anyone could use to wow their guests or fill any awkward silence around the table!

But on this occasion, it’s also good practice to look back on the events that shaped Thanksgiving as we know it today. Who knows, you may even find out that not all presidents endorsed Thanksgiving or that a Turkey Talk-Line is available for everyone in this busy holiday season!

We rounded up 15 Thanksgiving history facts that made our jaws drop:

15.) Thanksgiving May Not Have Started in Massachusetts

thanksgiving history facts massachusetts

The popular belief is that the first Thanksgiving celebration happened in the autumn of 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts when the colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared a harvest feast.

Some historians don’t agree with this version of history though. They argue that the first Thanksgiving in America actually happened in Florida, almost 60 years before Plymouth!

According to them, the encounter happened between 800 Spanish settlers and the native Timucuan people, after the Spanish arrived at the new settlement of St. Augustine, Florida. A mass to thank God for their safe arrival was held, followed by a feast to celebrate, to which the local Timucua tribe was invited.

14.) The Name “Thanksgiving” Came Later

thanksgiving history facts pilgrims landing

When the first Thanksgiving feasts were being held, no one actually called them by that name.

It was a small indication in the publication of a letter by Pilgrim Edward Winslow that pushed this name forward. Sent to the Boston publisher Alexander Youn in 1841, the letter contained a description of the feast, where the pilgrim stated: “Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a more special manner rejoice together.”

When Young published the letter, he included the name “Thanksgiving” in a footnote, even though the pilgrim never used it, but the name became widely used since then.

13.) We Could Have Been Eating Venison Instead Of Turkey

thanksgiving history facts turkey


This one can be hard to believe, so brace yourselves: there is no record that turkey was 0n the menu at the first Thanksgiving meal.

If we were to be eating the food that was brought to that feast, we would be eating venison—offered by the Wampanoag tribe on that day— and local seafood including lobster (fancy!), mussels, and bass. How about the beloved mashed potatoes? Absolutely not! However, pumpkin was on the menu, in addition to other fruits and vegetables from the first pilgrim harvest.

12.) Sarah Josepha Hale is The Mother of Thanksgiving

thanksgiving history facts sarah hade

Does the name ring a bell? Sarah Josepha Hale was the editor of the famous Godey’s Lady’s Book, and if there is anyone to thank for the holiday, it should be her.

In the mid-19th century, she campaigned hard for a national Thanksgiving Day to promote unity amongst different sections. Abraham Lincoln listened to her plea and supported her idea. This is how he proclaimed, during the Civil War, that Thursday, November 26th will become a national day of Thanksgiving.

The following presidents kept on proclaiming the holiday, although on different dates. If you’re wondering who set out the day once and for all, keep on reading!

11.) No Pumpkin Pie? Thanksgiving is Cancelled

thanksgiving history facts apple pie


With hundreds of pumpkin pie recipes made available online, one might wonder just *how* important it is on a Thanksgiving table.

While pumpkin pie has been a fundamental treat on New England Thanksgiving tables since the 18th century, residents of Colchester, Connecticut proved that they didn’t joke about their Thanksgiving essentials.

Due to a molasses shortage in 1705, they delayed Thanksgiving for a week! Talk about commitment.

 READ MORE: The Most Beautiful Thanksgiving Pies with Recipes 

10.) What’s The Deal With Cranberries?

thanksgiving history facts cranberry


To add to the list of items that weren’t actually on the menu of the first Thanksgiving is sweetened cranberries.

It is true that cranberries were eaten by Native Americans but they weren’t sweetened. The Pilgrims didn’t eat the sweet relish either since they exhausted their sugar supply by 1621.

Bonus info: the first jellied cranberry sauce was canned by Marcus Urann in 1912.

9.) Thanksgiving & Football: a Winning Combo

thanksgiving history facts football

Are you one of the many Americans who tunes in to watch football on Thanksgiving? If yes, then you’re carrying on a tradition that started almost one and a half centuries ago!

It all started with a college match between Princeton and Yale, recorded as the first Thanksgiving football game, in 1876. The next years, the tradition spread to many high schools and colleges where games were played on Thanksgiving.

8.) Thomas Jefferson Did *What*?!

thanksgiving history facts thomas jefferson

Not everyone was on board of recognizing government proclamations of Thanksgiving, and there was one person who was unapologetically against it: Founding Father and then-President, Thomas Jefferson.

But let us get our Thanksgiving history facts straight. First of all, Jefferson didn’t cancel Thanksgiving, it wasn’t an official holiday then. Second, he didn’t abolish its celebration. The only aspect he opposed was its government proclamations. Indeed, he strongly believed in the strong separation of state and church, which could be compromised by officially endorsing a religious celebration.

7.) Wanna Boost the Economy? Let’s Try Moving Thanksgiving!

thanksgiving history facts shopping

Gary Coronado / The Palm Beach Post

No one can deny the economic boost the country knows on this holiday season. But before multi-million profit-making Black Friday sales and Cyber Monday deals, the holiday shopping season was comprised of Thanksgiving and Christmas only.

With that thought in mind, and concerned that a late Thanksgiving would shorten the Christmas shopping season and dampen the economy, President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided to issue a Presidential Proclamation to move Thanksgiving one week earlier.

Did that work though? Not really. As many states didn’t comply in that year of 1939, he was obliged to issue another proclamation in 1942 to choose the fourth Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day.

6.) Who Was The President Who Pardoned a Turkey First?

thanksgiving history facts abraham lincoln

If turkeys could talk, they would probably tell us their dream career is to become a White House Thanksgiving Turkey! But when did this tradition start?

According to the Obama White House website, tracking down when the very first president to pardon a turkey happened is quite tricky. However, there are tales that it all started with Abraham Lincoln. His son Tad begged him to pardon the turkey that was destined to be on their family’s table. Arguing that the bird had the right to live, as much as anyone, Lincoln granted his wish.

In 1963, President Kennedy also spared the life of the bird he received, saying: “We’ll just let this one grow.”

However, it was President George H.W. Bush who was the first to officially pardon a turkey, in 1989, announcing: “[The turkey] had been granted a presidential pardon as of right now.”

READ MORE: Top 5 Ways to Prepare a Thanksgiving Turkey 

5.) Benjamin Franklin Prefers The Turkey Over The Eagle

thanksgiving history facts

The turkey? A national symbol? Yes, that’s what Benjamin Franklin wished for.

In a letter to his daughter, he wrote: “For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country… For the Truth, the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird.”

4.)First Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade: Live Animals Instead of Balloons

thanksgiving history facts macys thanksgiving parade

George Rinhart / Getty Images

Yes, you read that right. Major Thanksgiving history facts that will blow your family’s mind when you’re watching the parade on TV.

Let us explain. Macy’s wanted to celebrate the expansion of its Herald Square superstore and decided to throw the “Big Christmas Parade” in 1924, two weeks before Thanksgiving. The twist? It didn’t have any balloons but instead showed live animals from the Central Park Zoo, bands, and magnificent floats.

The first balloon introduced was ‘Felix the Cat’ in 1927.

3.) TV Dinner Trays Are a Thanksgiving Miracle

thanksgiving history facts turkey dinner tray

Can you remember the biggest mistake you made as an intern or an employee? No matter whom you offended or which project you forgot to turn in, there is a big chance it won’t come close to what an employee of C.A. Swanson & Sons did in 1953.

He overestimated demand for Thanksgiving turkey and the company found itself with 260 tons of extra frozen food.

According to Smithsonian reports, after the panic moment, a genius Swanson salesman came in with a brilliant idea: instead of wasting the food, the company would package it alongside some vegetables and sell it in aluminum trays, that will be easy for people to buy and reheat.

After ordering 5,000 aluminum trays, frozen peas, sweet potatoes, and cornbread dressing, the company made the first TV tray dinner.

2.) “Jingle Bells” Could Have Been a Thanksgiving Song

thanksgiving history facts jingle bells


No way, you’re saying. It’s hard to believe, we know. But the “Jingle Bells” song—that was originally titled “One Horse Open Sleigh,”—by the way—was originally composed by Jame Pierpont in 1875 for Thanksgiving.

The song gained such popularity on Christmas that it changed to the version we know and love today.

1.) Butterball Turkey Talk-Line: The Thanksgiving Knights

thanksgiving history facts butterball turkey talk line


How cool is it that Butterball has had a Turkey Talk-Line open since 1981, from November through December, that works every year?!

It’s been almost 37 years and if there is one more thing we are thankful for this year, it’s this talk-line.

What do you think of these Thanksgiving history facts? Got anyone we can add to the list? Let us know in the comments! And for more history-related mind-blowing facts, make sure to read the next article!

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