Happy Thanksgiving | Some Wonderful Facts to Fill Your Day

I can smell the pumpkin pie in the oven, the turkey roasting, and the cranberries simmering on the stove. I hear “Touchdown!” in the background and my table is filled with family and friends (virtual or not). This can only mean one thing, it’s Thanksgiving. All of us at Water Bear Marketing wanted to take this time to tell you how thankful we are for each one of you. Our day is even better this year because we are grateful to be able to consider all of you a part of our Water Bear Marketing family. Happy Thanksgiving and thank you for allowing us into your homes and businesses today and throughout the year.

Thanksgiving is not only about food, football, and family, it is about traditions and history. If you want to take a quick break from your in-laws or just need something to read to keep you awake on the couch after the meal, we have got you covered.

To keep with our tradition of sharing the history of holidays with you, we have once again tapped into the History Channel to be able to provide you with a bit of knowledge as to how Thanksgiving has become what we know it as today. Who knows, by reading this it may give you a topic of conversation after the Tryptophan wears off, or help you in a game of trivia later.

So, here we go… Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday in the United States and occurs every year on the fourth Thursday in November. This year, that day, just happens to be this Thursday, November 26. While your Thanksgiving may not look the same as it usually does, due to COVID-19, if the past has taught us anything, it is that no matter what, Thanksgiving is here and it is a time to be thankful and to celebrate those around us and those before us.

The First Thanksgiving | How it All Began:

In September 1620, a small ship called the Mayflower left Plymouth, England, carrying 102 passengers—an assortment of religious separatists seeking a new home where they could freely practice their faith and other individuals lured by the promise of prosperity and land ownership in the New World. After a treacherous and uncomfortable crossing that lasted 66 days, they dropped anchor near the tip of Cape Cod, far north of their intended destination at the mouth of the Hudson River. One month later, the Mayflower crossed Massachusetts Bay, where the Pilgrims, as they are now commonly known, began the work of establishing a village at Plymouth.

Throughout that first brutal winter, most of the colonists remained on board the ship, where they suffered from exposure, scurvy and outbreaks of contagious disease. Only half of the Mayflower’s original passengers and crew lived to see their first New England spring. In March, the remaining settlers moved ashore, where they received an astonishing visit from an Abenaki Indian who greeted them in English. 

Several days later, he returned with another Native American, Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe who had been kidnapped by an English sea captain and sold into slavery before escaping to London and returning to his homeland on an exploratory expedition. Squanto taught the Pilgrims, weakened by malnutrition and illness, how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish in the rivers and avoid poisonous plants. He also helped the settlers forge an alliance with the Wampanoag, a local tribe, which would endure for more than 50 years and tragically remains one of the sole examples of harmony between European colonists and Native Americans.

In November 1621, after the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest proved successful, Governor William Bradford organized a celebratory feast and invited a group of the fledgling colony’s Native American allies, including the Wampanoag chief Massasoit. Did you know? Lobster, seal and swans were on the Pilgrims’ menu for the first Thanksgiving? Imagine having a seal on the table in front of you instead of a turkey. Anyways, back to history… Now remembered as American’s “first Thanksgiving”—although the Pilgrims themselves may not have used the term at the time—the festival lasted for three days.

United States Thanksgiving | A National Holiday:

During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress designated one or more days of thanksgiving a year, and in 1789 George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation by the national government of the United States; in it, he called upon Americans to express their gratitude for the happy conclusion to the country’s war of independence and the successful ratification of the U.S. Constitution. His successors John Adams and James Madison also designated days of thanks during their presidencies.

In 1817, New York became the first of several states to officially adopt an annual Thanksgiving holiday; each celebrated it on a different day, however, and the American South remained largely unfamiliar with the tradition. 

In 1827, the noted magazine editor and prolific writer Sarah Josepha Hale—author, among countless other things, of the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb”—launched a campaign to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. For 36 years, she published numerous editorials and sent scores of letters to governors, senators, presidents and other politicians, earning her the nickname the “Mother of Thanksgiving.”

Abraham Lincoln finally heeded her request in 1863, at the height of the Civil War, in a proclamation entreating all Americans to ask God to “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.” He scheduled Thanksgiving for the final Thursday in November, and it was celebrated on that day every year until 1939, when Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week in an attempt to spur retail sales during the Great Depression. Roosevelt’s plan, known derisively as “Franksgiving”, was met with passionate opposition, and in 1941 the president reluctantly signed a bill making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November.

Thanksgiving Today | Our Current Traditions:

In many American households, the Thanksgiving celebration has lost much of its original religious significance; instead, it now centers on cooking and sharing a bountiful meal with family and friends. Turkey, a Thanksgiving staple, has become all but synonymous with the holiday, even though it was likely not served when the Pilgrims hosted the inaugural feast in 1621. In present day Thanksgiving, nearly 90 percent of Americans eat the bird—whether roasted, baked or deep-fried, according to the National Turkey Federation. Other traditional foods include stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.

Parades have become an integral part of the holiday in cities and towns across the United States. Presented by Macy’s department store since 1924, New York City’s Thanksgiving Day parade is the largest and most famous, attracting some 2 to 3 million spectators along its 2.5-mile route and drawing an enormous television audience. It typically features marching bands, performers, elaborate floats conveying various celebrities and giant balloons shaped like cartoon characters.

Beginning in the mid-20th century and perhaps even earlier, the president of the United States has “pardoned” one or two Thanksgiving turkeys each year, sparing the birds from slaughter and sending them to a farm for retirement. Several U.S. governors also perform the annual turkey pardoning ritual.

Thanksgiving Knowledge | A Holiday Full of Random Fun Facts:

Origin of the TV dinner: A botched Thanksgiving order lead to the TV tray dinner. In 1953, an employee at C.A. Swanson & Sons overestimated demand for Thanksgiving turkey and the company was left with some 260 tons of extra frozen birds. As a solution, Smithsonian reports, a Swanson salesman ordered 5,000 aluminum trays, devised a turkey meal and recruited an assembly line of workers to compile what would become the first TV tray dinners. A culinary hit was born. In the first full year of production, 1954, the company sold 10 million turkey TV tray dinners.

Football tradition: The winning combo of football and Thanksgiving kicked off way before there was anything called the NFL. The first Thanksgiving football game was a college match between Yale and Princeton in 1876, only 13 years after Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday. Soon after, Thanksgiving was picked for the date of the college football championships. By the 1890s, thousands of college and high school football rivalries were played every Thanksgiving.

“You are pardoned”: Starting in the 1940s, farmers would gift the president with some plump birds for roast turkey over the holidays, which the first family would invariably eat. While President John F. Kennedy was the first American president to spare a turkey’s life (“We’ll just let this one grow,” JFK quipped in 1963. “It’s our Thanksgiving present to him.”) the annual White House tradition of “pardoning” a turkey officially started with George H.W. Bush in 1989.

Now that’s a random gift: In 1926, President Calvin Coolidge received a somewhat odd Thanksgiving gift in the form of a live raccoon. Meant to be eaten (the Mississippi man who sent it called raccoon meat “toothsome”), the Coolidge family adopted the pet and named it Rebecca. Rebecca was only the latest addition to their already substantial White House menagerie that included a black bear, a wallaby, and a pygmy hippo named Billy.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade balloons: The first oversized balloons debuted in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in 1927. The brainchild of Anthony Frederick Sarg, a German-born puppeteer and theatrical designer who also created Macy’s fantastical Christmas window displays, the first balloons were filled with oxygen, not helium. That year they featured Felix the Cat and inflated animals like elephants, tigers and a giant hummingbird.

Now that we have filled you with more than just turkey, this Thanksgiving, we will let you get back to your holiday traditions, whatever those may be. One more time, us waterbears want to wish you the happiest of Thanksgivings and thank you again for being a part of our family. Happy Thanksgiving from Water Bear Marketing.