Thanksgiving in the U.S.A: Your Guide to Food, Facts, and Surprising Stats

November 20, 2013

In anticipation of Thanksgiving next week, ISEP Communication and Marketing Intern, Megan, gets into holiday history!

Thanksgiving in America is bound to conjure up images of giant turkeys surrounded by pie, bread, mashed potatoes, gravy, and cranberry sauce; overstuffed family members lying on the couch watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and football games on TV; and airports clogged with family and friends flying home for the holiday.

Do you know why Americans celebrate it or how it came to be? Here are a few facts about the holiday that you may (or may not!) know:

  1. Today’s Thanksgiving celebration is a blend of two traditions: the New England custom of rejoicing after a successful harvest; and the Puritan Thanksgiving, a solemn religious observance combining prayer and feasting.
  2. The date of the “first” Thanksgiving celebration is heavily debated. The first celebration is often described as the three-day feast the Pilgrims and Native Americans shared in 1621. But since that date, the official date of Thanksgiving has been moved around by President George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and FDR. Congress finally passed a law in 1941 declaring Thanksgiving would occur every year on the fourth Thursday of November. For more in-depth information, click here.

  3. The food at the first Thanksgiving feast included wild goose or duck, wild turkey, deer, corn, fish, shellfish, venison, waterfowl, squash, maize, beans, and local berries. In comparison, the feast today typically includes turkeys, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, bread, and corn.

While the holiday has its generalizations, it is far from the same in every house across America. From traditional to the exact opposite, Thanksgiving reflects the cultures and characteristics of each different family.

ISEP student Tiphanie celebrated her birthday on American Thanksgiving — making for an interesting cake/turkey!
ISEP student Tiphanie celebrated her birthday on American Thanksgiving — making for an interesting cake/turkey!

Maria Peske, an international student at Missouri State University, celebrated Thanksgiving twice; once with the study abroad office, and again with a family in Pennsylvania. “They made a traditional thanksgiving dinner for us, including the turkey (they baked five 20-pound turkeys), the stuffing, the pie, and everything! We watched parades on TV and then a football game! Altogether we had around 30 people…so much fun!”

David Wilson, an international student at Edgewood College, explained his Thanksgiving experience as an “American-Caribbean fusion meal from the traditional turkey to a deliciously bizarre goat curry.” His Jamaican friend’s family fused their culture with the American holiday.

Want to learn more? Here is a list of interesting statistics about the holiday!

  1. According to a survey done in 2011, the total caloric intake during Thanksgiving is about 4500 calories! For a 180 pound man to burn off the extra calories, he would have to walk for 5 straight hours! (Make sure you bring some stretchy pants for after dinner!)
  2. Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade is the second largest consumer of helium in the country. In 2010, the parade had 15 balloons and used 300,000 cubic feet of helium to keep them floating!
  3. In 2011, 736 million pounds of turkey were eaten during Thanksgiving feasts!
  4. Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day (even busier than Christmas). In case you’re traveling for the holiday, the five busiest airports in the US during Thanksgiving are: O’Hare International in Chicago, LA International airport, Logan International in Boston, LaGuardia in NYC, and San Francisco International airport.

If you’re lucky enough to be studying abroad in America during Thanksgiving, make the most of it. Overindulge in turkey, unbutton your pants to make room for dessert, cheer for your favorite football team, and watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV. But most of all, remember what the holiday is commemorating — from the small moments to those that change your life, always be thankful for what you have.

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