Thursday, November 22, 2018

14 Thanksgiving facts you may not know about

1) Because it is unclear that the Pilgrims ate turkey at their inaugural Thanksgiving meal in the 1620s, the writer Calvin Trillin mock-campaigned for years to have the national Thanksgiving dish changed from turkey to spaghetti carbonara.

2) The people who crossed the Atlantic on the Mayflower weren't even called Pilgrims. Most of them, dissidents who had broken away from the Church of England, called themselves Saints while others called them Separatists. Some settlers were known as Puritans, dissidents but not separatists, who wanted to "purify" the Church. Not until roughly the American Revolution did the name Pilgrims become associated with the Plymouth settlers.

3) But for the World War II years of 1939 to 1944, the Detroit Lions have hosted a football game every Thanksgiving since 1934. Of the 70 games they have so far played on that date, they have lost 84 of them. Only NFL fans will find the previous sentence mildly amusing, if that.

4) The busiest air travel day of the year in America is the Sunday after Thanksgiving. The second-busiest is the Wednesday before. People who travel on those two days do not find it even mildly amusing.

5) In a letter to his daughter, Benjamin Franklin wrote of his disappointment, if not entirely serious, that the bald eagle - "a Bird of bad moral character" - was chosen to be the U.S. national bird. Franklin preferred the turkey - "though a little vain and silly, a Bird of Courage."

6) Accurate or not, archaic or not, this scene is far and away the most enduring image of Thanksgiving in America. Approximately 25 million prints of this image (along with its three companion images) were bought during the 20th century.

7) This may strike some as blackly funny, others as not funny at all: When the U.S. Air Force conducted test runs which broke the sound barrier, fields of turkeys would drop dead of heart attacks.

8) Of the turkeys eaten annually in the U.S., one in five is consumed on Thanksgiving.

9) John F. Kennedy spared a turkey on November 19, 1963, three days before he was assassinated. There was yet no tradition of turkeys being granted presidential pardons around Thanksgiving; Kennedy simply did it spontaneously. The bird wore a sign that read, "Good Eatin' Mr. President," and Kennedy said, "Let's just keep him."

10) While we have come to believe that we nod off easily after the Thanksgiving meal because of unusually high levels of tryptophan in turkey (and because we are watching the Detroit Lions play football), the level is comparable to that in most other meats. The drowsiness is likely more attributable to the enormous consumption of carbohydrates, which triggers the release of insulin.

11) "Cranberry Day," not "Turkey Day," would seem a fairer nickname for Thanksgiving: Approximately 88% of Americans eat turkey on the day, but more than 94% of Thanksgiving dinners include cranberry sauce.

12) Sarah Josepha Hale, a magazine editor and author, influenced American life in a way few people have: Not only did her campaign to make Thanksgiving a national holiday finally bear fruit in 1863, after many decades and editorials, when President Lincoln issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation; she also wrote "Mary Had a Little Lamb."

13) For the first few years of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, animals from the Central Park Zoo marched along with bands, other entertainers and store employees. 1927 saw the appearance of the first big-animal-shaped floats, such as Felix the Cat, but they were filled with air, not helium. The following year, floats were filled with helium; at the parade's conclusion, the balloons were released - and burst. In 1929, the floats were equipped with safety valves so they could float for a few days. Address labels were sewn into the floats; anyone who found and mailed back the discarded balloon would receive a gift from Macy's.

14) In 1815, the country celebrated two Thanksgivings.

  About the author: Author of ten books (and counting), as well as stories in numerous magazines and newspapers, Andrew Postman has riffed on a wide range of subjects, including sports, the environment, love and sex, health care reform, dying, pop culture, computers, fatherhood, reality TV, travel, numbers, odd symmetry and more. His father Neil thought the best opening line to a novel was found in Rafael Sabatini's Scaramouche: He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad. As DayRiffer, he feels no reason to disagree.

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