The History of Thanksgiving: 10 Facts You Didn’t Know

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Thanksgiving is a beloved holiday that brings families and friends together to express gratitude and share a bountiful meal. While many people are familiar with the Pilgrims and Native Americans, there are plenty of lesser-known historical tidbits and fascinating origins that make Thanksgiving an even more interesting holiday. Join us on a journey through time as we uncover 10 facts about the history of Thanksgiving that you probably didn’t know.

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#1. The First Thanksgiving Wasn’t in Plymouth

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While the Pilgrims in Plymouth, Massachusetts, are often credited with the first Thanksgiving, Spanish explorers held a feast of gratitude in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1565, long before the Pilgrims arrived.

#2. The Original Feast Lasted Three Days

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The Pilgrims’ celebration in 1621 was a three-day event during which the Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians shared food, played games, and celebrated their successful harvest.

#3. Presidents Lincoln and Roosevelt Played Significant Roles

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Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, while Franklin D. Roosevelt changed the date of Thanksgiving in 1939, moving it up a week to extend the holiday shopping season. This caused some controversy at the time.

#4. The First Thanksgiving Included Seafood

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The Pilgrims’ menu featured seafood like lobster, clams, and fish alongside the more traditional turkey and venison.

#5. Thanksgiving Was Almost a Fast

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The original Thanksgiving in 1621 was not intended as a feast but as a religious observance. The Pilgrims had gathered to fast and pray for a bountiful harvest but ended up celebrating their good fortune.

#6. Sarah Josepha Hale’s Campaign

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Sarah Josepha Hale, the author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” campaigned for 17 years to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. She saw it as a way to promote unity during a tumultuous time in American history.

#7. Thanksgiving Wasn’t Always on the Fourth Thursday

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Thanksgiving was initially celebrated on different days, with some states choosing to observe it on the last Thursday in November. It wasn’t until 1941 that it became an official federal holiday, celebrated on the fourth Thursday of the month.

#8. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Started as a Christmas Parade

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The iconic Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was originally a Christmas parade. It debuted in 1924 to celebrate the opening of Macy’s new flagship store in New York City.

#9. Presidential Pardoning of Turkeys Began with Truman

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The tradition of a president pardoning a turkey began with Harry S. Truman in 1947, although the term “pardon” wasn’t used until Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

#10. Thanksgiving’s Link to Football

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Football and Thanksgiving have a long-standing relationship. The NFL’s Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys both started hosting Thanksgiving games in the 1930s, and the tradition continues to this day.

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Pri Kingston

Ash & Pri are the Founders of and have spent the last decade building their way towards financial freedom and a lifetime of memories. Having successfully achieved their early retirement goal in under 10 years, they look forward to sharing their financial sense with like-minded people. Read more about Ash & Pri in the 'About Us' section.