Do You Know Why We Eat Turkey On Thanksgiving?

in Candy Blog

Have you ever wondered why we eat turkey on Thanksgiving? 

The tradition is so ingrained into American culture that most of us just assume turkey has been at the helm of this holiday since the beginning, but the truth is it wasn’t.

As it turns out this bird took its time becoming an American holiday icon and here’s how it happened. 

Retro family dinner illustration


What was eaten at the first Thanksgiving meal? 

The first Thanksgiving meal was served in 1621 between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe. While most think that turkey was served most historians believe the big bird was not on the table that day.

As it turns out the protein of choice was a mixture of venison, fish, geese, and even duck. These animals were then stuffed with vegetables and other spices that added flavor and roasted over the fire.

What's shocking is that the Pilgrims missed some of the best Thanksgiving food on the menu including mashed potatoes! The Spanish had yet to bring their pillowy potatoes to England so when the time to set sail came, potatoes were not on the boat. Instead, it’s believed that they roasted root vegetables like Indian turnips and ground nuts. 

Vintage thanksgiving turkey


Where did turkey on Thanksgiving come from? 

The turkey on Thanksgiving scenario happened organically. The North American bird is native to the region of the colonies and at a time when farming was sparse, turkeys were abundant and easy to hunt. Over time as eastern colonies continued to develop, turkey became part of the regular diet including the Thanksgiving holiday.

It took years for this eastern U.S. tradition to be handed down through generations and spread across the United States. One major supporter of the turkey on Thanksgiving movement was Sarah Hale, an American author, who wrote about making Thanksgiving a national holiday and maintaining traditions including the infamous turkey dinner.

After years (we're talking decades) of celebrating Thanksgiving with no official date, President Abraham Lincoln finally made Thanksgiving an official holiday in the fall of 1863.

Upon this announcement, Alexander Hamiltion was noted saying, “No citizen of the U.S. shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day.” On that fateful day in 1863, Thanksgiving and turkey were cemented in history. 

Thanksgiving Turkey Carving Cartoon


How many turkeys do Americans eat on Thanksgiving?

All this turkey talk probably has you wondering how many turkeys are sold during the Thanksgiving season. To our surprise, over 46 million turkeys are sold every Thanksgiving. 

That’s right, 46 million turkeys.

Of that 46 million Butterball, one of the largest turkey suppliers, accounts for almost 30% of the market or roughly 13.8 million turkeys a season.

While that is the standard for most thanksgiving turkeys, this year is looking a little different. Between tight supply chains and a rise in bird flu, fresh turkey costs are 112% higher than in previous years, coming in at almost $1.99/lb.

So what does that mean for all of us who love turkey? We will still be able to eat it this year, chances are that you might just have to stick to a single serving instead of going back for seconds, thirds, or fourths.

Now if you’re a fan of turkey stats, check out these 5 Thanksgiving facts most people don’t know. 

5 Thanksgiving Facts Everyone Should Know

1. Philadelphia is home to the oldest thanksgiving day parade.

The Philadelphia Gimbel Brothers Department Store parade in 1920 had less than 50 people and a fireman suited up as Santa Claus. This was the first officially documented Thanksgiving Day parade in the U.S. Now, it’s called the 6abc Dunkin’ Donuts Thanksgiving Day Parade and packs some of the largest crowds in the country. As a matter of fact, it was the inspiration behind the Macy’s Day Thanksgiving Day Parade which started in 1924.

2. The Detroit Lions have the longest-standing Thanksgiving NFL game 

George A. Richards, a former owner, purchased what was the Portsmouth Ohio Spartans in 1934 and brought them to Detroit. With a new logo, colors, and named George decided to host a Thanksgiving Day game against the world-champion Chicago Bears in hopes of attracting fans. It was a smash hit that became an immediate tradition that has withstood over 85 years. Note: They did miss Thanksgiving 1933-34 due to WWII but have played every year since. 

3. Two turkeys are pardoned by the president of the United States every year. 

This tradition started with George H.W. Bush back in 1989 after noticing the bird looked nervous during his Thanksgiving address. Since then, it’s been a tradition for the president to pardon two turkeys every Thanksgiving and send them off to perform other duties such as honorable grand marshalls in Disney Thanksgiving parades.

4. TV Dinners were invented courtesy of Thanksgiving turkey. 

In 1953, Swanson ordered a massive amount of turkeys (260 tons) that they couldn’t sell out. Inspired by the food served on airplanes, salesman Gerry Thomas suggested cooking all the turkey and serving it with cornbread dressing, gravy, peas, and sweet potatoes on a to-go aluminum tray. It was an immediate hit at 98 cents in households that were busy. 

5. Colchester, CT actually canceled Thanksgiving one year. 

This small Connecticut town did in fact postpone Thanksgiving in 1705 because they didn't have enough pumpkin pies. So the city came together and officially moved the holiday from Thursday to Saturday in order to ensure there were enough pumpkin pies to go around. 

Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours! 

There you have it, the short history of Thanksgiving Day turkey and how it became a staple for the holidays. We hope that you and yours have a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with joy and gratitude.

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