86 Interesting Facts About Thanksgiving

Last updated on March 30th, 2023

Celebrated on the fourth Thursday of every November, Thanksgiving is an annual federal holiday in the US and Canada. In the US, the holiday is largely modeled on a 17th century harvest feast shared by the English settlers and the Wampanoag tribesmen. This means that many families in the US still use the holiday to celebrate the blessings and harvest of the past year. Besides observing common Thanksgiving traditions, Americans also observe this holiday by engaging in fun Thanksgiving activities with family and friends.

86 Interesting facts about Thanksgiving

History of Thanksgiving

1. Ninety Wampanoag Native Americans and 50 Plymouth colonialists (Pilgrims) celebrated the first-ever autumn harvest celebration in 1621. While this celebration lasted three days, only five women were present.

2. According to the US National Archives, the first federal congress passed a resolution in 1789 requesting the then US president, George Washington, to name a national Thanksgiving Day. The president then proclaimed 26th November as the “Day of Public Thanksgiving” for that year.

3. Although subsequent presidents also proclaimed national thanksgiving days, the holidays fell on different days and months. However, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that Thanksgiving would be held on every last Thursday of November each year and that it would be a national holiday.

4. Since some Novembers had 5 Thursdays, the congress and senate made a new resolution in 1941 aimed at removing the confusion surrounding Thanksgiving. The then US President, Roosevelt, signed it, proclaiming the fourth Thursday of every November as the national Thanksgiving Day.

A family sitting together for thanksgiving dinner. Thanksgiving facts
A family sitting together for thanksgiving dinner. Photo © Monkey Business Images | Dreamstime.com

5. Thanksgiving in the US is also known as American Thanksgiving to differentiate it from the Canadian Thanksgiving, which became a national holiday in 1879.

6. Thanksgiving is the second favorite holiday among American adults, behind Christmas and ahead of Halloween.

7. In Europe, Thanksgiving is popularly known as Erntedank (“harvest thanksgiving festival”).

8. Thanksgiving is the most popular day in the U.S. for racing.

Thanksgiving Foods

9. Traditionally, a typical Thanksgiving dinner comprises turkey stuffing, roast turkey, dinner rolls, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, corn, pumpkin pie, gravy, and green beans, and other foods.

10. Americans ate about 15 pounds of turkey per person in 2021, spread over the entire year. An average of one pound of that was consumed on Thanksgiving Day.

A turkey on grill.A turkey on grill. facts about Thanksgiving
A turkey on grill for Thanksgiving celebration. Interesting facts about Thanksgiving. Image credit – Edsel Little

11. Data from the US Poultry and Egg Association, Americans consume more than 45 million turkeys on Thanksgiving, compared to 22 million at Christmas and 19 million on Easter. Fully half of all whole turkeys eaten in the U.S. are consumed on Thanksgiving Day. Only male turkeys — appropriately named gobblers — actually make the sound. Female turkeys cackle instead. 

12. According to the US Calorie Control Council (CCC), an average American may consume a whopping 4,500 calories and 229 grams of fat on Thanksgiving Day. Remember that the recommended daily caloric intake for an average person is 2,000 per day. A typical adult needs to spend 10 hours at a steady pace on a treadmill to burn off an average Thanksgiving meal.

13. It takes an average of 9.6 hours for a host to prepare a full Thanksgiving meal. How much time is spent eating that meal? 16 minutes.

14. The average person gains one pound between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

15. On average, Americans purchase about 250 million pounds of potatoes as well as 77 million pounds of ham during Thanksgiving week.

Photo © Nikolai Sorokin

16. It’s estimated that 88 percent of Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving. About 19 percent of Thanksgiving meals include ham in addition to turkey.

Some facts about Turkey (bird)

17. The average turkey, alive and walking around, weighed 17 pounds in 1960. That increased to 19 pounds by 1980, and rose to 31 pounds today. By comparison, the average adult American man weighed an average of 166 pounds in 1960, but weighs about 198 pounds today.

18. After processing, the average whole turkey today weighs about 16 pounds. For each pound of roasted whole turkey, about 71 percent is composed of edible meat.

19. When deciding how big of a turkey to get, the rule of thumb is to choose one that weighs one pound for each person expected to share it. The bigger the bird, the greater the ratio of meat to bones, so the cheaper the serving.

20. According to Consumer Reports taste tests, there is no reason to choose a self-basting bird over one that is not self-basted. Basted birds have much more salt.

Frozen assorted brand whole turkeys for sale
Frozen assorted brand whole turkeys for sale. Facts about Thanksgiving. Photo © Adrianadh

21. A frozen whole turkey should be thawed in the fridge for 24 hours for each 5 lbs. of weight before being cooked.

22. A turkey consists of 70 percent white meat and 30 percent dark meat. White meat has fewer calories and less fat than dark meat.

23. Turkey is the most famous food consumed on Thanksgiving, to the point where Thanksgiving is sometimes colloquially called “Turkey Day.” 

24. On the first Thanksgiving, Pilgrims and the Native Americans consumed freshly killed deer, cornbread, seafood, porridge, and assorted wildfowl, among other foods. However, turkey was not part of the Thanksgiving dinner.

25. There are three towns in the United States named “Turkey.” They can be found in Texas, Louisiana, and North Carolina.

26. Minnesota raises the most turkeys in the U.S. Just six states—Minnesota, North Carolina, Arkansas, Virginia, Missouri and Indianaproduce two-thirds of the birds raised in the United States.

27. Turkey meat is higher in protein and lower in fat and calories than many other types of meat, averaging 26 percent protein and 11 percent fat. It has 25 percent less fat than roast beef, and 46 percent less fat than pork loin. Skin accounts for six percent of the bird’s weight. The highest fat concentrations are found in the skin and the pan drippings. Pan drippings are usually used as the base of turkey gravy. One hundred grams of cooked turkey skin has about 451 calories, while cooked white meat has only 176.

Pumpkin pie on a white plate.
Pumpkin pie on a white plate. Photo © Jennifer M

28. Around 50 million pumpkin pies are consumed every Thanksgiving. 36 percent of people eat pumpkin pie for dessert on Thanksgiving, even though opinion polls show that America’s favorite pie is apple.

29. The recipe for pumpkin pie has mostly stayed the same in the past 200 years. Cookbooks dating back to the late 1700s contain recipes similar to the modern method.

Common Thanksgiving Traditions in the US

30. Every Thanksgiving Day, families and friends meet to share the thanksgiving dinner and give thanks for the blessings received in the past year.

31. Americans also line the streets to watch the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, which is usually characterized by a large crowd of people marching along the streets with huge inflatables held high above. The first Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade was held in 1924, and it mainly comprised Macy’s employees. The inflated balloons were later introduced in 1927.

Thanksgiving Dinner. Thanksgiving fact file
Thanksgiving Dinner ready on the table. Interesting facts about Thanksgiving. Image credit – Klimt

32. During Thanksgiving dinner, a Y-shaped bone is removed from the turkey and set aside to dry. Once everyone finishes their meal, two people make wishes for the new year and break this bone, popularly known as the “Thanksgiving wishbone”, into two parts. Most Americans believe that whoever ends up with the larger piece of the wishbone will have good luck and his/her wishes granted for the new year.

33. Typically, eating Thanksgiving dinner is another popular tradition. It involves carving turkeys and making wishes.

34. While this may not sound like a tradition, most people take naps after thanksgiving dinner.

35. The main purpose of Thanksgiving Day is to give thanks. As such, every Thanksgiving, families, and friends share what they are most grateful for, particularly for the past year.

36. Students from across the US decorate hallways to set in the mood for Thanksgiving celebrations.

37. Although many Thanksgiving traditions originate from the first Thanksgiving, different families also have various traditions that mark their celebrations. For instance, some families go on vacations, play games, or hold family get-togethers.

Common Thanksgiving Activities in the US

38. On Black Friday, a day after Thanksgiving Day, Americans line up in stores to purchase goods at discounted prices. On this day, most stores usually make huge sales.

American football ball on grass
American football ball on grass. Interesting facts about Thanksgiving.

39. People also gather at home and in public places to watch football on Thanksgiving Day. Some even split into teams and start playing football in their yards.

40. The tradition of watching and playing football on Thanksgiving began in 1876, just after the invention of this sport. On this day, people gathered to watch and play football since it was a day that a majority of the participants, as well as spectators, had off from work.

41. The first professional football games on Thanksgiving were played November 25, 1920.

42. Thanksgiving is also a day on which philanthropic people give back to society. During this day, many communities, as well as charitable organizations, organize food drives to collect non-perishable foods, including dry foods, cereals, and canned foods, for the less fortunate in society. They also organize Thanksgiving dinners for the homeless and other less privileged people in society.

A wild Turkey Tom. for facts about Thanksgiving
A wild Turkey Tom. Interesting facts about Thanksgiving. Image credit – Mark Gunn

43. Americans also take part in races, popularly referred to as “turkey trots.” The races could be anywhere from 1 mile to half marathons. People take advantage of these races to burn some of the calories consumed on Thanksgiving. The Buffalo Turkey Trot is an annual 8K (4.97 miles) Thanksgiving footrace held in Buffalo, New York each Thanksgiving Day. The race proclaims itself to be the oldest continually running public footrace in North America, having established itself in 1896 and run every year since, even during World War I, the 1918 flu pandemic, World War II and the coronavirus pandemic of 2020.

44. More people travel to Orlando, Florida than anywhere else on Thanksgiving.

45. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is known as “Drinksgiving.” Thanksgiving Eve Is Traditionally the Busiest Bar Night of the Year.

Thanksgiving in Canada

46. Unlike American Thanksgiving, which is usually held on every fourth Thursday of November, the Canadian Thanksgiving happens on every second Monday of October each year. It coincides with Columbus Day, which is an annual federal holiday in the US.

47. In 1578, an English explorer, Martin Frobisher and his crew, gave thanks after their safe arrival in Newfoundland, and this marked the first Thanksgiving in Canada. However, the first official Thanksgiving celebration was held on 6th November 1879.

48. Initially, Canadians celebrated their Thanksgiving Day on every first Monday of October annually. It was until 31st January 1957 when the Governor-General of Canada made an official announcement moving the thanksgiving celebrations to every second Monday of October each year.

49. While the Canadian Thanksgiving falls on a Monday, majority of the families hold their get-togethers and share their thanksgiving dinners on Sunday evenings.

50. In 2020, Canadians bought about 2.5 million whole turkeys from farmers on Thanksgiving Day. This represented about 36% of the total number of turkeys purchased for the whole year, as per the Turkey Farmers of Canada (TFC).

51. While Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday in the US celebrated in all 50 states, it is optional in Atlantic Canada.

52. During the American Revolution, some Americans moved to Canada and carried along some of the Thanksgiving traditions, including carving turkeys. It is worth noting that there are many similarities between the thanksgiving celebrations in the two countries.

53. Unlike in the US where large parades such as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, are held, Canadian thanksgiving parades are typically smaller and are mostly held at the local level.

Basket of Pumpkins. Interesting facts about Thanksgiving
Basket of Pumpkins. Interesting facts about Thanksgiving. Image credit – Don Graham

54. While thanksgiving foods consumed are similar in both countries, the recipes used to prepare them are somewhat different. For instance, the Canadian pumpkin pie is spicy while the American one is just sweet. Also, while Canadians use rice or bread crumbs for turkey stuffing, Americans mainly use cornbread.

Good Things Associated with Thanksgiving

55. Long-distance travels. During Thanksgiving, most people travel the world to either spend time with their loved ones or just retreat and have fun. For instance, in 2019 alone, a whopping 55.3 million people in the US traveled on Thanksgiving Day, as reported by Statista.

56. Turkey pardoning. Here, the President of the United States receives two live turkeys as a gift in a celebration held in the White House right before Thanksgiving Day. He then pardons them so that they can live on a farm. Usually, the pardoned turkeys spend their remaining days living in comfort.

57. There is an official Thanksgiving postage stamp.

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