A Thanksgiving History Lesson: Fun Facts for Turkey Day!

By Amanda Boyarshinov

Timely topics

Native Americans and Europeans have celebrated the end of the harvest season with festivities for centuries. The Thanksgiving holiday as we know it has evolved throughout the years from an informal day of thanks to a national holiday where friends and families gather to express their gratitude, eat turkey and watch football along with the holiday parade.


Here are some fun facts that will give kids a Thanksgiving history lesson!


1621: The “First Thanksgiving” often refers to November 1621, when the Pilgrims gathered in Plymouth, Mass. for a celebration of their first harvest in the New World along with the Wampanoag Native Americans. The feast lasted three days and was attended by 53 Pilgrims and 90 members of the Wampanoag people.

It is not known for sure whether wild turkey was served but there was an abundance of foul that was eaten during the time period.


1789: President George Washington called for a public day of thanks, which became a tradition in many communities.


1863: On October 3, 1863, Abraham Lincoln announced the last Thursday of November as a national day of thanksgiving, officially making the tradition an annual holiday.


1924: Macy’s Department Store hosts its first Thanksgiving Day Parade to draw more attention to stores for the Christmas shopping season. The parade includes floats, marching bands and balloons and makes its way through New York City to Macy’s flagship store on 34th Street. That first parade drew over a quarter of a million people and a new tradition began. NBC began televising the parade on national television in 1952 and more than 44 million people now tune in each year.


1934: Most associate the beginning of the Thanksgiving football tradition with the Detroit Lions’ loss to the Chicago Bears (19-16) in the classic holiday match. The NBC Radio Network broadcast the game on 94 stations across the country, making it the first national football broadcast on the holiday.


1939: Prior to 1939, Thanksgiving had been held on the last Thursday in November. With the country in the midst of the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday to the fourth Thursday of the month to extend the Holiday shopping season in a year with five November Thursdays. By 1941, Congress had officially made the fourth Thursday in November the federal holiday.


1947: The tradition of the president sparing a Thanksgiving turkeys is said to have begun in 1947. This bird sparing may have informally begun even earlier with Abraham Lincoln saving his son’s pet turkey.


1989: It wasn’t until 1989 when George H. W. Bush used the words “pardon” for two turkeys during an official ceremony that the “presidential turkey pardon” tradition began.


Make learning these Thanksgiving history facts even more memorable for children by connecting them with a hands-on learning activity:


1. Make a timeline of important dates.

2. Create a presentation to teach about the history of Thanksgiving.

3. Write and perform your own song about these Turkey Day facts.

4. Choose one fact to illustrate.

5. Make a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting two different holidays.

6. Design a poster that advertises the first Thanksgiving.

7. Visit the library and check out books on the Wampanoag people, Pilgrims and Thanksgiving.

8. Take a virtual trip on the Mayflower.

9. Create a family trivia game to see who can guess the facts.


How will you be celebrating Thanksgiving? Tell us in the comments below!



History.com, Census, NY Times, The Old Farmer’s Almanac, TIME, Pro Football Hall of Fame , The White House