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Erin Mayer
November 23, 2017 10:10 am

You probably think you know all there is to know about Thanksgiving — after all, you’ve likely celebrated it your whole life. But the holiday is about more than eating a lot of turkey and avoiding talking politics with your grandpa who’s become a Fox News zombie. The history of Thanksgiving is more complex than you might have imagined. And that’s exactly where Thanksgiving trivia comes in handy.

Have you ever stopped to wonder where all these weird little traditions came from? Before you dive into a plate of stuffing this November, kick off your holiday season by reading up on 9 fun facts you didn’t know about Thanksgiving.

Americans prefer the leftovers.

You’d think turkey is better when fresh, but many Americans disagree — according to CNN, 79% said they actually prefer the day-after leftovers to the actual Thanksgiving feast.

Thanksgiving is the reason we have TV dinners.

Hold on to your Lean Cuisine! According to Time, a salesman at Swanson created the first TV dinners in 1953 out of leftover turkey and other Thanksgiving staples that the company had overstocked before the holiday. Think of them next time you heat up a frozen burrito and eat it in front of Netflix.

Football on Turkey Day is a longstanding tradition.

Sitting down to watch The Big Game before turkey dinner isn’t actually a modern thing — the tradition dates back to 1876, when Yale and Princeton played against each other on Thanksgiving Day, MSN reports.

“Thanksgiving” is a bit of a misnomer.

The word “thanksgiving” used to mean something very specific that had nothing to do with turkey. According to National Geographic, “Among 17th-century pilgrims, a ‘Thanksgiving’ was actually a period of prayerful fasting,” aka the opposite of a feast. Indeed, as MSN reports, the event that we think of as the first Thanksgiving “wasn’t actually a religious event.”

People consume a lot of food on Thanksgiving.

Calorie counting is probably the last thing on your mind on Thanksgiving (as it should be), but, according to CNN, the Calorie Control Council crunched the numbers: The average person consumes 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving, between snacks, the big meal, and dessert. No wonder you feel like taking a nap for ten hours after you eat!

It is unclear which president pardoned the first turkey.

You know that weird presidential tradition of pardoning a turkey on Thanksgiving? It’s unclear who actually started it. Per Business Insider:

"The annual tradition was thought to have begun in 1947 with President Harry Truman. But some think that it actually started in the 1860s with Abraham Lincoln after his son Tad begged him to spare his pet turkey's life. Despite these two theories of the origins of the pardon, George H. W. Bush was the first president to officially grant a turkey a presidential pardon, according to The New York Times."

It’s worth noting, though, that as Time reports, Thanksgiving is responsible for the death of approximately 46 million turkeys every year. Sure makes that symbolic pardoning seem a little ridiculous, no?

The menu at the first Thanksgiving was probably not what you’d expect.

According to National Geographic, the menu of the first Thanksgiving wasn’t exactly brimming with stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. Instead, it’s likely that the pilgrims and members of the Wampanoag tribe sat down to a meal that included goose, duck, venison, fish, lobster, and beer. It is also possible that modern-day Thanksgiving staples such as turkey, pumpkin, cornbread, and squash were served.

I guess I feel less weird about my family’s “ravioli on Thanksgiving” tradition now.

A writer helped make Thanksgiving a national holiday.

Sarah Josepha Hale (the writer responsible for the nursery rhyme “Mary Had A Little Lamb”) lobbied for almost 36 years to get Thanksgiving recognized as a national holiday, according to CNN. Abraham Lincoln finally granted her wish in 1863 when he declared the final Thursday in November the official Thanksgiving.

Cranberries are way more popular at Thanksgiving than at basically any other time.

Think about it: When else do you eat cranberries besides on Thanksgiving? According to Tipsy Writer, you’re not alone — that one day is responsible for 20 percent of the cranberry consumption each year. And here I thought we were all shoving our cranberry sauce into our napkins when our parents weren’t looking. The more you know!

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