5 facts about the history of Thanksgiving you can share between bites of turkey this holiday


Americans may know the story behind Thanksgiving, but there are more historical facts about how this day became a national holiday that you may not know. 

You may be excited about getting into the Christmas spirit, but Thanksgiving always comes first. 

The holiday is associated with a traditional turkey dinner, paired with plenty of sides and sweet desserts, along with the typical reflections on what people have to be grateful for this year.

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Below are facts about the history of Thanksgiving that you can share with your loved ones over some turkey this holiday.

Thanksgiving hasn’t always involved a turkey-focused feast. The first Thanksgiving involved seafood, mainly. (iStock)

  1. The first Thanksgiving was in 1621
  2. There wasn’t any turkey at the first Thanksgiving, but there was seafood
  3. Thanksgiving became a national holiday in 1863
  4. The first Thanksgiving college football game was in 1876, with the NFL following in 1920
  5. The first ever Macy’s Day Parade featured real animals, not balloons

1. The first Thanksgiving was in 1621

Although there are some conflicting views, the first Thanksgiving is widely known to have taken place in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1621, according to History.com.

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The day labeled as the first Thanksgiving was a three-day feast attended by colonists and Wampanoag Indians.

2. There wasn’t any turkey at the first Thanksgiving, but there was seafood 

Today, the star of a Thanksgiving spread is a turkey, but it wasn’t always this way. The first Thanksgiving featured no turkey at all, or really any of the staple dishes that span the table today for that matter. 

Thanksgiving dinner

Turkey is a popular dish to serve during Thanksgiving gatherings with family and friends. (iStock)

Seafood such as mussels, lobster and bass was a big part of the first Thanksgiving meal, according to History.com. 

Deer was another featured item at the first feast. 

Turkey was popular to serve at most holiday or celebratory dinners. Due to its relative affordability and abundant supply, it became the official meal for Thanksgiving throughout the 19th century.

3. Thanksgiving became a national holiday in 1863

Before it became an official holiday, President George Washington issued a proclamation that Thursday, Nov. 26, 1789, would be a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer,” according to the U.S. Office of the Historian. It wasn’t until 1863, however, that President Abraham Lincoln said Americans should recognize the last Thursday of every November as a day of Thanksgiving.

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Even though Thanksgiving generally was established as a holiday during this time, the exact time when the holiday would fall was still up for debate. 

George Washington

President George Washington issued a proclamation that Thursday, Nov. 26, 1789, would be a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer.” (iStock)

The date remained the last Thursday in November until President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved it to the third Thursday of November in 1939. At the time, the country was still reeling from the Great Depression, and Roosevelt hoped to help businesses by extending the holiday season.

The move was controversial, however, and the House passed a bill in October 1941 that made the fourth Thursday of November the official date for Thanksgiving. The bill wasn’t signed by Roosevelt until December, however, so it didn’t take effect until the following Thanksgiving, according to the Office of the Historian.

4. The first Thanksgiving football game was in 1876

The first Thanksgiving football game was a college game played in 1876. The game was played on Nov. 30, 1876 in Hoboken, New Jersey, when Yale beat Princeton 2-0. 

The first NFL Thanksgiving games were played in 1920, the same year the organization was founded.  

Macy's Parade

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade started in 1924. (Gary Hershorn/Getty Images)

Many see 1934 as the official start of the Thanksgiving football tradition, as this was the first year the Detroit Lions hosted a Thanksgiving game. The team has played on the holiday every year since, except from 1939 through 1944 during World War II

In 1966, the Dallas Cowboys joined in on the holiday fun, and they have played on the holiday almost every year since then. 

The tradition of a Thanksgiving Day football game ranges from the pros, to local teams, with high school and college teams also playing on the day across the country. 

5. The first ever Macy’s Day Parade featured real animals, not balloons 

Every year, the streets of New York City are filled with extravagant balloons held by many people keeping them under control, but the parade didn’t always look like this. 

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Macy’s hosted the first Thanksgiving Day parade in 1924, but instead of balloons, animals from the Central Park Zoo were the stars of the show. 

The animals didn’t last too long and were replaced by balloons just a few years later, in 1927.

Michael Hollan contributed reporting. 

For more Lifestyle articles, visit www.foxnews.com/lifestyle.



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