34 Best Pieces of Thanksgiving Trivia to Wow Your Dinner Guests

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You may know Thanksgiving as a day off from work filled with good food, football, and loved ones—but there is a lot you may not know about this national holiday.

If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve celebrated Thanksgiving a time or two (let’s face it, probably more). It’s one of our nation’s most cherished holidays, filled with delicious food, precious memories, Thanksgiving traditions, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, and most importantly, reminders of the many things to be grateful for. But how much do you really know about Thanksgiving doings past and present? It’s time to dive into this Thanksgiving trivia to find out!

1. The first Thanksgiving was recorded in a letter

Pretty much everything we know about the first Thanksgiving was written in a letter by a colonist named Edward Winslow. Written to someone he refers to as a “Loving, and old Friend,” the letter is quite lengthy and he touches on Thanksgiving only briefly. It turns out the full history of Thanksgiving is actually quite complex and even disturbing.

2. It wasn’t always celebrated on the fourth Thursday of the month

Thanksgiving has been around for a long time. In fact, George Washington issued the first presidential proclamation of a Thanksgiving celebration in 1789. Other presidents followed in his footsteps issuing proclamations of their own. For decades, Thanksgiving was held on various dates, until Abraham Lincoln proclaimed it should be celebrated the last Thursday of November in 1863. In 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the date up a week earlier; however, many states refused to play along. In 1941, Congress stepped in and passed a resolution setting a fixed date for Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of the second-to-last month. Make sure to take note of some of these Thanksgiving quotes you’ll want to share around the table this year.

3. Not every president recognized Thanksgiving, however

Thomas Jefferson refused to declare a Thanksgiving proclamation. Since previous presidents had declared Thanksgiving to be a day of fasting, prayer, and gratitude, Jefferson felt the holiday inappropriately crossed the boundary separating church and state. Here are more surprising presidential firsts you never knew about.

4. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is almost 100 years old

A Turkey shaped balloon in an early Macy's Thanksgiving Day ParadeGeorge Rinhart/Getty Images

Macy’s has been holding its annual Thanksgiving Day parade since 1924. In addition to floats with nursery rhyme characters like Mother Goose and Little Miss Muffet, the inaugural parade also included real bears, monkeys, elephants, and other animals on loan from the Central Park Zoo. In 1927 the animals were replaced with giant balloon characters because their frightened growls scared the children.

5. The turducken has deep roots in New Orleans

New Orleans has a legendary food scene but many people don’t know that the Thanksgiving turducken has roots there. In case you’ve never had this mouthwatering marvel, a turducken is a deboned chicken placed inside a deboned duck, placed inside a turkey. It’s a lot of poultry! Chef Paul Prudhomme is believed to have invented the dish and served it at his New Orleans restaurant, K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen. Read up on these Thanksgiving poems you’ll want to recite at dinner this year.

6. A town once postponed Thanksgiving because of pumpkin pie

No Thanksgiving trivia would be complete without a story about pumpkin pie. In 1705, the town of Colchester, Connecticut was so dedicated to the dessert that they elected to postpone the holiday because foul weather had interfered with their molasses shipment. Without molasses, they couldn’t make pumpkin pie and without pumpkin pie, Thanksgiving just wouldn’t be the same. If you’re planning on buying one this year, here’s what you didn’t know about the $5.99 Costco pumpkin pie.

7. The first Thanksgiving menu probably included lobster

If your family Thanksgiving meal traditionally includes side dishes like mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, you might be surprised to know that they weren’t served at the first Thanksgiving. In fact, potatoes weren’t grown in North America yet and cranberry sauce wouldn’t be invented for 50 more years. What was most likely on the first Thanksgiving menu? Indigenous foods like lobster, swan, mussels, venison, and corn porridge.

8. Canada celebrates Thanksgiving, too

Cropped Hand Of Person Holding two miniature flags: american flag and canadian flagAnna Kraynova/Getty Images

Another piece of Thanksgiving trivia you may not know is that the holiday isn’t just celebrated in the United States. Canada celebrates Thanksgiving, too. Canadians, however, celebrate in October, offering thanks for a safe voyage that took place more than 40 years before the Mayflower crossing. If you think that’s surprising, wait till you check out these 20 facts you never knew about Canada.

9. Black Friday is a busy day for plumbers

If you’re in the habit of braving the stores on Black Friday, there’s a group of people you’re not likely to see in the crowds: plumbers. It turns out that enough people clog their sinks and garbage disposals on Thanksgiving to make it the busiest day of the year for plumbers. To help you avoid this situation, memorize the list of 12 things you should never put down the drain.

10. The Butterball Turkey Hotline answers over 100,000 calls a year

If you’ve got a question about your Thanksgiving turkey, the Butterball Turkey Hotline is at your service. Each year, their experts take over 100,000 calls about turkey preparation during November and December. Some of the questions they receive are hilarious! These are 34 funny Butterball hotline calls to share this Thanksgiving.

11. Thanksgiving inspired the first TV dinners

In 1953, the folks at Swanson didn’t sell as many Thanksgiving turkeys as expected. In fact, they had over 260 tons of unsold turkey on hand. Inspired by the meals served in trays on airplanes, Swanson salesperson Gerry Thompson used the turkeys to create the world’s first TV dinners. They sold for 98¢ each. These ready-made meals were an immediate hit and Thompson was given a $1,000 bonus for coming up with the idea, the equivalent of five months’ salary.

12. Airline tickets are really expensive the Sunday after Thanksgiving

American passport with boarding pass insideTetra Images/Getty Images

Sometimes a little knowledge of Thanksgiving trivia comes in handy. For instance, the Sunday after Thanksgiving is usually one of the most expensive days to fly due to high demand. Booking your tickets home a day earlier or staying a day longer could save you a considerable amount of money.

13. The first presidential turkey pardon wasn’t related to Thanksgiving

If you’ve ever wondered why the president pardons a turkey every Thanksgiving, you might be surprised to learn the tradition started with a different holiday altogether. That’s right! The presidential turkey pardon has been traced back to 1863 when Abraham Lincoln granted clemency to a live turkey intended for his family’s Christmas dinner.

14. The first Turkey Trot was held in Buffalo, New York

If your Thanksgiving morning includes getting up early to run in a Turkey Trot, you’re taking place in a tradition that dates back over a century. The first Turkey Trot was established in 1896 in Buffalo, New York. A mere six runners showed up to participate! Since then, the race has become decidedly more popular with millions of participants showing up for Turkey Trots across the nation.

15. A very familiar Christmas carol was written for Thanksgiving

Sometimes Thanksgiving trivia and Christmas trivia collide, like in the case of a famous Christmas song that was actually written for Thanksgiving. As it turns out, James Lord Pierpont originally wrote Jingle Bells so it could be performed by his father’s Sunday school class on Thanksgiving. No wonder the lyrics don’t mention anything about Christmas!

16. You won’t believe how much turkey Americans eat on Thanksgiving

Roasted whole turkey on a table with apple, pumpkin and figs for family Thanksgiving Holiday.Edalin/Getty Images

According to the National Turkey Federation, Americans consume 46 million turkeys every Thanksgiving. That’s a lot of poultry, especially considering they eat another 22 million turkeys on Christmas!

17. The first Thanksgiving was long…really long

Drawings of everyone gathered around a table enjoying a meal at the first Thanksgiving are misleading. The first Thanksgiving feast took place in 1621 and it was more than just a single meal. It was a celebration that lasted three days. This is far from the only piece of Thanksgiving history to be frequently misrepresented.

18. There’s a trick to avoiding Thanksgiving traffic

Holiday traffic can be notoriously difficult. According to Waze, the best way to avoid getting caught in a snarl is to set out on Thanksgiving itself instead of the night before. They also say to avoid being on the road between noon and 4 p.m. If you need to run out to grab some last-minute items at the store, check in advance to see which stores are open on Thanksgiving.

19. Critics picked a cartoon as the best Thanksgiving movie of all time

According to critics on Rotten Tomatoes, the best Thanksgiving movie of all time is A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Producer Lee Mendelson says he and Charles Schultz disagreed about a scene in which Snoopy’s pal Woodstock ate turkey because he didn’t think a bird would eat another bird. He was overruled and the scene stayed in.

20. The green bean casserole was invented by a soup company

close up on campbells logo on a soup canJustin Sullivan/Getty Images

If your family holiday tradition includes green bean casserole, you have Campbell’s Soup Company to thank. The recipe was developed by a woman named Dorcas Reilly, who worked in the Campbell’s Soup home economics department. Originally called Green Bean Bake, the recipe became a sensation when the company began printing it on the labels of their cream of mushroom soup cans. Here are more mouthwatering Thanksgiving side dishes all your guests will love.

21. The Pilgrims’ relationship with the Wampanoag tribe was complicated

The Pilgrims weren’t the first Europeans to arrive in the area we now call New England. Other White men had been there before, killing off 90 percent of the Wampanoag tribe by spreading diseases like smallpox. Countless others were enslaved. When the Pilgrims arrived, the Wampanoag tribe had been largely decimated, leaving them in a vulnerable position compared to less affected tribes. They formed an alliance with the Pilgrims, exchanging knowledge of how to farm the land for European weapons. Without this relationship, the Pilgrims wouldn’t have survived.

22. The Detroit Lions play every Thanksgiving

Watching football is a holiday tradition for many families. This is especially true if you’re a fan of the Detroit Lions. The Lions have played every Thanksgiving since 1934, the only exceptions being the years they didn’t play due to World War II.

21. Thanksgiving dinner is high in calories

Knife and fork crossed, isolated on pink backgrounddima_sidelnikov/Getty Images

All that Thanksgiving food is delicious, but it’s also—no surprise here—not the healthiest. The average American consumes between 3,000 to 4,000 calories during their holiday celebration. If you don’t feel like cooking this year (no shame!), see which restaurants are open on Thanksgiving to get an amazing feast without the hassle.

22. Astronauts in space don’t get the day off

If you’re an astronaut in outer space, you won’t have the luxury of time off on Thanksgiving. NASA still does its best to make the day special, however. Astronauts are treated to a traditional Thanksgiving menu including turkey, candied yams, and mashed potatoes. After that, it’s back to work, though.

23. Americans enjoy wine with their Thanksgiving meal

According to a survey by Instacart, 75 percent of Americans aged 21 and older drink wine with their Thanksgiving dinner. Red wines were the most popular choice, although no word on whether they prefer a cab, merlot, syrah, or a different grape altogether.

24. Minnesota raises the most turkeys

There’s a good chance that turkey arrived at your table by way of the North Star State. The state raises more turkeys than anywhere else in the United States. While you’re sitting around the table, serve up some of our funny turkey jokes to make the family laugh.

25. There are three tiny towns named Turkey

A sign for Turkey Texas, capital of Western Swing music and home of the country musician Bob Wills Oliver Strewe/Getty Images

The United States has three tiny towns named after the turkey: Turkey, North Carolina; Turkey, Texas; and Turkey Creek, Louisiana. Each one has a population of under 500.

26. There were probably more Native Americans than colonists at the first Thanksgiving

There were 22 male colonists, four married female colonists, and 25 children at the first Thanksgiving. By contrast, there were more than 90 Native Americans taking part in the celebration.

27. There was no pumpkin pie at the first Thanksgiving

Although there was likely some sort of pumpkin dish served at the first Thanksgiving, it definitely wasn’t in pie form. The colonists didn’t have a baking oven at Plimoth Plantation!

28. The “Mother of Thanksgiving” also wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb”

What a small world! There was a period of time, before Thanksgiving became a national holiday, that it was only celebrated in the northeast. After campaigning for four decades in 1863, the “Mother of Thanksgiving,” also known as Sarah Hale, convinced President Abraham Lincoln to instate the holiday across the country. Hale coincidentally happened to have written the classic “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” So maybe you can add that to your list of Thanksgiving songs?

29. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons were once just let go

You now know that before balloons were used at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, the creators used zoo animals. But in 1927, after Felix the Cat floated down the streets of New York as the first-ever parade balloon, there wasn’t any protocol in place for deflating those balloons. So, once the parade was over, the balloons were simply let go. This strategy proved to be ineffective as most of the balloons popped right after being released.

30. There once weren’t any size regulations on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade balloons

New York City Police rush to the aid of the Pink Panther balloon as it collapses after being blown over due to high winds 27 November at the 71st annual Macy's Thanksgiving day parade in New York.JON LEVY/Getty Images

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade balloons are huge, as you may know, but did you know that there are rules in place that prevent them from getting any larger? In 1997, the balloons went haywire on a particularly windy holiday. The Barney balloon tore along its middle, the Pink Panther had to be stabbed by a police officer in order to regain control, and the Cat in the Hat struck a lamppost at 72nd street, bringing the balloon down. Due to these events, parade organizers declared a size regulation that says balloons can’t be larger than 70 feet high, 78 feet long, and 40 feet wide.

31. Last year, 20.7 million people tuned into the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade

About 20.7 million Americans turned on their televisions to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade last year. This made the parade the most watched entertainment broadcast of 2020.

32. Orlando, Florida is the most traveled to destination on Thanksgiving

In 2019, 55.3 million Americans traveled on Thanksgiving. This number decreased to 50.6 million during 2020, likely due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to statistics from AAA. According to booking information, Orlando, Florida, was the most popular travel destination followed by Anaheim, California, and New York City.

33. Cracking wishbones is an ancient tradition

Ever enjoyed breaking a turkey wishbone with a family member on Thanksgiving to see who snagged the larger piece? Well, it has been said that the person who snaps the larger piece will have good luck. This tradition dates way beyond Thanksgiving—back to the ancient Etruscans who snapped chicken bones. The chicken bones were dried in the sun and used as good luck charms.

34. Thanksgiving is America’s second favorite holiday

Can you guess what the first is? According to a Harris Poll from 2015, Christmas is the chosen favorite of Americans followed by Thanksgiving and then Halloween. Now that you know all this Thanksgiving trivia, see what other Thanksgiving games you can play with your family on the big day.

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Tamara Gane
Tamara Gane is a regular contributor to Reader's Digest covering travel, lifestyle, history, and culture. Her work has also appeared in The Washington Post, NPR, Al Jazeera, Wine Enthusiast, Lonely Planet, HuffPost Food, and more. You can follow her on Twitter @TamaraGane