11 Thanksgiving Trivia Facts to Share While the Turkey Roasts

Did you know 'Jingle Bells' was originally a Thanksgiving song?

Thanksgiving is best celebrated with roast turkey, football, and the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade—but have you ever wondered where these iconic traditions originated? Though we don't know exactly what the first Thanksgiving looked like, we can be reasonably sure that it didn't include touchdowns or parade floats.

Brush up on your knowledge of the holiday, and while you're waiting for the turkey to roast this Thanksgiving, teach your family members something new. (For example, did you know the wishbone tradition was established way before the first Thanksgiving?) These are some of the most interesting pieces of Thanksgiving trivia that'll stick with you long after the food coma wears off.

Aerial view of people enjoying Thanksgiving dinner
Karla Conrad
01 of 11

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Was Originally a Christmas Parade

It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without the iconic parade—but did you know the Macy’s parade actually began as the Macy’s Christmas Parade? The very first parade took place on Christmas Day in 1924, but the following year the event was renamed and moved to Thanksgiving.

Related: The Most Iconic Photos from the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade

02 of 11

‘Jingle Bells’ Was Originally a Thanksgiving Song

You likely associate this iconic song with the Christmas season—but it was originally written to celebrate Thanksgiving! The song, originally titled ‘One Horse Open Sleigh,’ was written by James Lord Pierpont in 1857 in honor of the Thanksgiving holiday.

03 of 11

George Washington Declared the First Official Thanksgiving Holiday

We know the story of Thanksgiving dates back to when the pilgrims first landed in America, but it was George Washington who first declared Thanksgiving to be an official holiday. In November 1777, he called for Thanksgiving to be held on the last Thursday of the month to celebrate the end of the Revolutionary War and the ratification of the Constitution. And while Thanksgiving wasn’t made an official holiday until much later on, he’s the reason we celebrate on the last Thursday of November.

04 of 11

There Is a Turkey Hotline

Perhaps the most stressful part of the Thanksgiving holiday is cooking the bird—especially if you’ve never done it before. Luckily, you can call the Turkey Talk-Line, sponsored by the food company Butterball. The phone line (1-800-BUTTERBALL) has been of service to stressed holiday cooks for over 35 years. The company has since expanded its services to include social media support and Amazon Alexa compatibility.

05 of 11

Black Friday Was Invented to Stop People from Shopping over Thanksgiving Weekend

Today we associate Black Friday with sales that start on Thanksgiving Day and massive crowds of people, but ironically the term “Black Friday” was first used to keep people at home over Thanksgiving weekend. The term was first used in 1966 by the Philadelphia Police Department. They were trying to discourage people from shopping that day to cut down on traffic before the Army-Navy football game on Saturday.

06 of 11

Football Has Been a Thanksgiving Tradition for Almost 150 Years

For the last 144 years, Thanksgiving football has been part of the Thanksgiving celebration—whether on TV or played in the backyard by family members who want to get out of cooking. The first Thanksgiving game was played between Yale and Princeton in 1876, and a few years later, it became a tradition for the college football championships to be played on the holiday.

07 of 11

Americans Purchase Millions of Turkeys Each Thanksgiving

Americans purchased 46 million turkeys in November 2020—somewhat surprising because we don’t buy a lot of turkeys the rest of the year. According to the National Turkey Federation, 77% of whole turkeys sold each year are sold in November, which indicates we’re only willing to go to the trouble of cooking a whole turkey one day a year.

08 of 11

Abraham Lincoln Was the First President to Pardon a Turkey

The tradition of the presidential turkey pardon officially began with George H.W. Bush in 1989, but the event can be traced back to Abraham Lincoln. The story goes that the president’s son became very attached to the live turkey meant to become Thanksgiving dinner, so President Lincoln spared the bird, and his son kept the feathered friend as a pet.

09 of 11

The Tradition of Friendsgiving Was Inspired by ‘Friends’

While we don’t know for sure where the tradition of Friendsgiving (a Thanksgiving celebration held with a group of friends) originated, it seems to be strongly connected to the hit ‘90s television show Friends. While Monica, Chandler, Phoebe, Rachel, Ross, or Joey never said the word ‘friendsgiving’ in an episode, the show’s Thanksgiving specials were wildly popular. They depicted the friends celebrating the holiday together for ten seasons in a row—around the time Friendsgiving celebrations became popular in real life.

10 of 11

The Very First Thanksgiving Likely Didn’t Have Turkey

Nowadays, it’s rare to find a Thanksgiving celebration that doesn’t include turkey—but the poultry dish likely wasn’t at the first feast. Not much is known about the first Thanksgiving, but the members of the Wampanoag tribe (who lived in the area where the pilgrims landed) traditionally ate lobster, deer, and seafood they could catch.

11 of 11

The Wishbone Tradition Isn’t Original to Thanksgiving

When the big meal is over, it’s customary for two people to grab hold of the wishbone and pull—and whoever ends up with the bigger half can expect a year of good luck. The first colonists brought this tradition from Britain, although it originated in Rome. The ancient Romans believed that birds were lucky, so they would save the wishbone and keep it as a token of good fortune when a bird died.

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