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Thanksgiving - Some Surprising Tales & Trivia

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The Thanksgiving we celebrate today is quite different from the original gatherings in what were the colonies back in the day. 

Thanksgiving was originally a celebration by the Pilgrims that commemorated a successful fall harvest. The first and most famous instance of this celebration was on Thursday, November 24, 1621. The Pilgrims in Plymouth, Massachusetts, who had survived a brutal winter the year before, celebrated their first successful corn harvest with the friendly Native Americans, including members of the Wampanoag tribe. 

Thanksgiving items

Governor William Bradford organized the festival and invited some Native American allies. It was a three-day festival, and became known as the “first Thanksgiving.” But it was not an event that was celebrated each year. The next celebration took place in 1623. It was held to give thanks to the end a long drought that had threatened their crops.  

(Turkey Treat – A group of wild turkeys is called a rafter. Why? When buildings were being constructed, people would find wild turkeys in the rafters of their barns.)

Turkey Couple

Thanksgiving - Celebrated on - Well, that depends!!!

Sporadic celebrations of the fall harvest took place for the next century. In 1789, George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation calling for the colonists to show gratitude for the victory and end of the Revolutionary War. That year he recommended Thursday, November 26, as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer.

George Washington Proclamation

No specific month or day was proclaimed as always being Thanksgiving. In 1795, President Washington declared Thursday, February 19th as Thanksgiving Day. His presidential successors proclaimed different days and months to give thanks.

(Turkey Treat – A wild turkey generally has a lifespan of about 3 to 4 years. Their diet is mostly plants including acorns, berries, seeds, and leaves, but they also eat insects, spiders, and snails.)

In 1863, Abraham Lincoln, in the midst of the Civil War, issued a proclamation calling for all Americans to ask God to “heal the wounds of our nation.” He scheduled Thanksgiving that year for the last Thursday in November.  This was the first time Thanksgiving was declared a national holiday. From that year, through 1939, Thanksgiving was celebrated on the last Thursday in November.

Things started to change in 1933. Businesses asked President Franklin D. Roosevelt to move the holiday up one week. Businesses requested the change to try and get more sales  to stay afloat during the Great Depression. President Roosevelt denied this initial request.

(Turkey Treat – The wild turkey is the official game bird of Alabama, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, and South Carolina).


Then in 1939, businesses, still reeling from the Great Depression, pleaded with President Roosevelt, and this time he agreed to change the date to the fourth Thursday in November. From 1939 to 1941 there were two celebration dates for Thanksgiving. Twenty-three states went along with Roosevelt’s recommendation, and 22 did not. These 22 states took BOTH days as government holidays.

Throughout all this time, there was no official law recognizing any specific date as the date to celebrate Thanksgiving. Up until 1939, it was up to the President’s discretion, although it was celebrated on the last Thursday in November. 

T-Day 2023

Finally, in 1941, Roosevelt signed a bill making it official that Thanksgiving be observed on the fourth Thursday in November. For some time, some states ignored that bill and still celebrated Thanksgiving on the last Thursday. It wasn’t until 1956 that Texas became the last state to agree to observe Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November.

(Editor’s Admission…I always thought that Thanksgiving was observed on the last Thursday of November.)

Turkey Fun - Some Dressing

Turkeys have excellent vision, far better than humans. Their eyesight covers 270 degrees, (humans covers 180 degrees), and, yes, they see in color. They also have better hearing. Even though they do not have external ears, they are capable of hearing things up to a mile away. This feature makes them keenly aware of predators that may be near.

Turkey Head

But unlike humans, turkeys don’t need a dentist, because they have no teeth. They do have something we do not have…snoods. Snoods are the red droopy protuberance that covers their beak. Both the male and the female have snoods.

Even if you did not see a turkey, you could tell the gender and the approximate age of the turkey by the ‘droppings’. Without getting too graphic, here are the details. If the droppings are shaped like the letter ‘J’, then the bird is male. A spiral dropping would be a female. The width of the dropping indicates the age, with a wider dropping being an older turkey.

OK, let’s ‘drop’ the ‘droppings’ topic and move on to…TRIVIA!!!. Let’s see just how smart you are when it comes to turkey trivia.

Tantalizingly Tempting Terrific Turkey Trivia    

Answers to the following questions are provided below (no peeking, we trust you!!!)

A)  Which turkeys make the ‘gobble’ sound:

  1. All male and female turkeys
  2. No male or female turkeys 
  3. Only female turkeys
  4. Only male turkeys

B)  A juvenile male turkey is called a:

  1. Jake
  2. Jerry
  3. Joey
  4. Johnnie

C)  The top turkey-producing state:

  1. Minnesota
  2. Massachusetts
  3. North Carolina
  4. Arkansas

D)  A juvenile female turkey is called a:

  1. Julie
  2. Jamie
  3. Jenny
  4. Jody

E)  Another name for a male adult turkey:

  1. Tim or gobbler
  2. Tom or gobbler
  3. Tad or gobbler
  4. Ted or gobbler

F)  National Turkey Lovers’ Month is:

  1. December
  2. November
  3. July
  4. June

G)  Another name for an adult female turkey:

  1. Helen
  2. Hannah
  3. Hen
  4. Holly

H)  Adult turkeys have:

  1. 1,000 to 2,000 feathers
  2. 3,000 to 4,000 feathers
  3. 5,000 to 6,000 feathers
  4. 7,000 to 8,000 feathers

I)  He wanted turkeys as our national bird:

  1. George Washington
  2. Benjamin Franklin
  3. Thomas Jefferson
  4. Abraham Lincoln

J)  The US exports the most turkey to:

  1. Canada
  2. China
  3. Mexico
  4. Brazil

    Fowl Play on TV

    Let’s set the scene. Back in 1978, there was a TV sitcom titled ‘WKRP in Cincinnati”. In one episode the station manager, Arthur Carlson, decided to have a Thanksgiving giveaway promotion. His idea, was to drop forty live turkeys from a helicopter over a shopping mall. 

    The station’s newsman, Les Nessman, was covering the event live on the radio. Unfortunately, the turkeys that were dropped just fell upon the public and their parked cars. In horror, Les Nessman on live radio uttered, “The turkeys are hitting the ground like bags of wet cement.”

    As the episode ended, the station manager, Arthur Carlson uttered what may be the most iconic line from that show, “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”

    (NOTE: no Turkeys were hurt or were dropped in the actual episode. Here is the link to the scene from the WKRP “Turkey Drop” episode).

    More Fowl Fun and Facts 

    Flying Turkey

    It is true that domesticated turkeys cannot fly as Arthur Carlson sadly found out. BUT, in real life, wild turkeys can fly. They can fly up to 50 miles per hour, over distances of up to a mile. Wild turkeys will fly up to sleep in trees, where it is safer than being ground prey for some night-stalking predator. 

    When on the ground, wild turkeys aren’t as easy to catch as you might think. They can run for short periods of time at speeds up to 15 to 20 miles per hour.

    Turkey Running Cartoon

    Was turkey served at the first Thanksgiving? The answer is…maybe. At the time, wild turkeys were plentiful. Turkeys, along with deer, duck, and geese were most likely served at the early celebration gatherings, with some bread-based stuffing, onions, corn, nuts, and beans as some of the side dishes. 

    Domesticated turkeys, (the ones that we get from the store) look different, they have white feathers. The first presidential ‘pardon’ of a turkey was done by Abraham Lincoln. His son pleaded to let the family turkey live a full life and convinced his dad to spare their turkey. The 'pardon' was not a tradition at the time, that did not come about until late in the 20th century.

    All turkeys have unique sounds, kind of like our human voices. Turkeys can cluck, purr, cutt, chump, kee-kee, and even putt! No, turkeys are not golfers, their putt is a warning sound to other turkeys of approaching or nearby danger.

    Baby Turkey

    One more little piece of trivia to leave you with before you reach for your dessert. Baby turkeys are called poults. 


    Trivia Answers: 

    A) 4;   B) 1;   C) 1;   D) 3;   E) 2;  

    F) 4;   G) 3;   H) 3;   I) 2;   J) 3;


    Our Madda Fella team hopes that everyone can enjoy this holiday with family, and friends. We hope that you can give thanks for all the good things you have provided for others, and what others have done for you!! 


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