Fun Facts About the History of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one of our country’s most loved holidays.  It is about families coming together and thankfulness for our bounty.  Most kids know about the feast in 1621 that marked a celebration of harvest and plentiful food shared between the Pilgrims and the Indians, but there is so much more to the story about how we got to what we know of as Thanksgiving today.

Our first Thanksgiving of 1621 didn’t serve turkey or potatoes or even pumpkin pie.  The three-day celebration included venison, wild goose and lobster.  The Indians celebrated the first successful harvest made by the Pilgrims with feasting, hunting, and other entertainment.  

While there were some Thanksgiving feasts in localized areas, another significant Thanksgiving was not held again until November 26, 1789.  George Washington declared a one time national Thanksgiving celebration to be held on November 26, 1789.  Despite this, it took over 200 years for Thanksgiving to be called a national holiday.

In 1827 a woman named Sara Josepha Hale, the woman known for writing Mary Had a Little Lamb, began a letter writing campaign that would last almost 30 years.  Inspired by the book Diary of Pilgrim Life, Sara was inspired to recreate the Pilgrims’ celebration.  During the 30 year letter campaign, she also published recipes including, you guessed it, turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie.  

Finally in 1863 Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November to become the national holiday Thanksgiving we know of today.  His hopes were to create a unifying tradition for his ailing country.

In 1939 Franklin Delano Roosevelt decided to move the holiday up a week to give the Depression Era retailers another week of sales.  Though this was widely disputed, FDR declared in 1941 that Thanksgiving would be celebrated on the 4th Thursday of November.

President George H. W. Bush in 1989 started a tradition of officially pardoning a turkey to go live on a retirement farm.  Every year since, the current president pardons 1 or 2 turkeys.

Where did the traditional football and parades come from?  In the 1920’s, a fledgling football team, the Detroit Lions, hosted an exhibition ball game to raise interest and it took off from there.  As for the parades, Macy’s in New York hosted the first parade in 1926.