~The first Thanksgiving lasted three days.
The event commonly referred to as the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in October 1621. It was organized by Governor William Bradford of Plymouth, Massachusetts, to celebrate the recent immigrants' first successful corn harvest in the New World. While the meal lacked much of what is now common Thanksgiving fare—there's no record of turkey being served, for example—there were at least five deer carcasses present, and the event lasted a full three days.
~The woman who got Thanksgiving reinstated as a national holiday also wrote "Mary Had a Little Lamb."
Sarah Hale is known as the "Mother of Thanksgiving" because, at a time when the holiday was only celebrated in the Northeast, she spent four decades campaigning for a national day of thanks. In 1863, she finally persuaded then-President Abraham Lincoln to reinstate the holiday nationwide. In addition, Hale was also a successful editor and poet, penning the famous "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and retiring at the ripe age of 90.
~George H.W. Bush's presidential "pardon" of a turkey was a joke of sorts.
The tradition of U.S. presidents receiving turkeys as gifts can be traced back to the 1870s, but it was Harry S. Truman who became the first to receive one from the Poultry and Egg National Board and the National Turkey Federation in 1947. It was intended, perhaps, as a peace offering by the poultry industry after egg growers sent crates of live chickens to the White House labeled "Hens for Harry," an act of protest against the president's short-lived encouragement of "poultry-less Thursdays." And though the Truman Library & Museum disputes that he was the first to "pardon" a presidential turkey, a murky tradition of presidents receiving—but not eating—turkeys began. It continued under the administrations of Kennedy, Nixon, Carter, and Reagan.
In 1989, following this tradition, the first official turkey "pardon" was granted by George H.W. Bush. With animal rights activists standing nearby, the president quipped that "this fine tom turkey…will not end up on anyone's dinner table, not this guy—he's granted a presidential pardon as of right now." The rest, as they say, is history.
~Canada celebrates a totally different Thanksgiving.
You might've believed Thanksgiving was purely American, but it's celebrated in Canada, too. Instead of the last Thursday in November, however, it falls on the second Monday of every October. The first to be nationally declared was held in 1872 to celebrate the medical recovery of the Prince of Wales. The prince had been suffering from a fever which had "fill[ed] the minds of all loyal subjects with the deepest anxiety," according to the The Perth Gazette and West Australian Times. And that's why our neighbors to the north give thanks!
~The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons used to just be let go after the show.
The first large-scale balloon used in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade was Felix the Cat in 1927, replacing the earlier zoo animals that were used in the first three iterations of the parade. Because there were no plans yet for deflating the balloons, most were simply allowed to float away afterwards. Unfortunately, this strategy didn't prove very effective, as most popped shortly after being released.
~Before 1997, there were no size regulations on Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons.
In 1997, the Barney balloon was ripped along its abdomen due to strong winds, while the Pink Panther had to be stabbed by police in order to be stabilized. The worst event occurred, meanwhile, when Cat in the Hat struck a lamppost at 72nd Street and then crumpled to the ground. In response to 1997's calamities, organizers of the parade instituted size regulations that required all balloons to be no larger than 70 feet high, 78 feet long, and 40 feet wide.
~About 50 million people watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day
Approximately 50 million Americans tune in to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade each year. Another 3.5 million people view it in person, and roughly 10,000 participate—in non-pandemic years, at least. And though the parade doesn't begin until 9 a.m. ET, many spectators arrive as early as 6:30 a.m.—lining the streets of New York—to get a spot along the route.
~More people travel to Orlando, Florida than anywhere else on Thanksgiving.
According to estimates by AAA, over 55 million Americans traveled 50 miles or more for Thanksgiving in 2019. The most popular of these destinations—according to booking info—were Orlando, Florida, closely followed Anaheim, California, then New York City.
~The original TV dinner was the result of a Thanksgiving
In 1953, an executive at Swanson miscalculated the company's upcoming Thanksgiving turkey sales, leaving the company with some 260 tons of frozen fowl following the holiday. Fortunately for Swanson, a salesman by the name of Gerry Thomas suggested packaging the excess product into trays—along with some traditional sides—and selling them to consumers as TV dinners. Thomas was apparently inspired by the pre-portioned trays used to serve airplane food.
~More than four-fifths of Americans prefer the leftovers to the meal.
According to a 2015 Harris Poll, a large majority of Americans (81%) prefer the leftovers of the Thanksgiving meal to the meal itself. Another finding: Millennials look forward to the turkey portion of the meal less than any other age group.