How Thanksgiving Became a National Holiday and Other Fun Facts

By Kyrie Collins, Highlands Ranch-Parker-Castle Rock-Lone Tree Publisher November 19, 2020

You've undoubtedly heard the story of the three-day harvest feast with the Pilgrims and Native Americans in the fall of 1621. But it was a long and winding road from there to the holiday we celebrate today.

More than 50 years after the first celebration, the governing council of Charlestown, Massachusetts, proclaimed June 29, 1676, a "day of thanksgiving." Another 100+ years passed when George Washington declared a National Day of Thanksgiving in 1789.

It wasn't until a magazine editor named Sarah Josepha Hale spent 40 years writing letters and editorials (talk about one determined woman!) that a National Thanksgiving Day began to take place each year. 

Her efforts finally paid off when, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November as a National Day of Thanksgiving. Each successive president also proclaimed a Thanksgiving Day, and Congress made it a legal holiday as the fourth Thursday in November in 1941.

Here are some more fun facts about Thanksgiving...

Our Founding Fathers Disagreed

  • George Washington may have declared a National Day of Thanksgiving, but Thomas Jefferson called it "the most ridiculous idea I've ever heard."
  • Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be our national bird.

Let's Talk Turkey

  • Americans eat approximately 46 million turkeys each year on Thanksgiving Day. Turkey is the leanest part of the Thanksgiving Day meal, which averages between 2,500 and 4,500 calories.
  • Turkeys have heart attacks. When the Air Force conducted tests and broke the sound barrier, all the turkeys in a nearby field dropped dead.
  • Since 1947, the National Turkey Federation has presented two dressed turkeys and a live turkey to the President. The President "pardons" the live turkey each year, which is then taken to live on a historical farm.
  • In 1953, Swanson had 260 tons of frozen turkey after Thanksgiving. A company executive ordered 5,000 aluminum trays and created an assembly line of workers to prepare mini-feasts of turkey, dressing, peas, and sweet potatoes. Thus, the first-ever TV dinner was made from Thanksgiving leftovers.
  • Minnesota is the largest producer of turkeys each year in the United States, while California is the largest consumer.
  • There is a Turkey, Texas; a Turkey Creek, Louisiana; and a Turkey, North Carolina. Each town has a population of fewer than 500 people.

More Thanksgiving Day Fun

  • The first annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade was in 1924. Since it is televised nationally, it is probably the most well-known, but Philadelphia's Thanksgiving Day Parade first took place in 1920, making it the oldest.
  • The tradition of watching football on Thanksgiving Day began in 1876 during the Championship Game of the American Intercollegiate Football Association. The first NFL game held on Thanksgiving Day was in 1934. The Detroit Lions played the Chicago Bears, and the Detroit Lions have played on Thanksgiving Day ever since, except during World War II.