Have you ever wondered why we break the wishbone or watch football every year on Thanksgiving? While this holiday is all about showing gratitude, we bet you take a few of these traditions for granted. Thankfully, the people at the language learning app Babbel were curious about why we celebrate Thanksgiving the way we do and shared their unexpected (and pretty amazing!) findings with us.
1 ) The Original Feast
While most agree that the first Thanksgiving took place in Massachusetts in 1621, did you know that some people believe the town of San Elizario, Texasnear El Paso hosted the first feast? In 1598, Spaniard Juan de Onate and 500 members of his crew crossed the Chihuahuan Desert and celebrated their survival with a feast of fish when they got to Texas.
2 ) The Food
While turkeys are local to the area where the pilgrims landed, the Wampanoag Indians would have been more likely to bring lobsters along with deer meat, clams and eels instead to the first feast. The pilgrims’ English preferences mean that they would’ve opted for duck and goose over turkey as well. In fact, turkey didn’t become a holiday staple until the 19th century when it was recognized as a cheap source of protein that could feed a large crowd.
3 ) The Side Dishes
While traditional sides like sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce seem like they could have been at the first Thanksgiving, they actually weren’t introduced to until about 50 years later when cranberry sauce was finally invented and sweet potatoes finally made their way to America.
4 ) The Leftovers
Did you know the first-ever TV dinner came from Thanksgiving leftovers? In 1953 a worker at Swanson ordered too many frozen turkeys (260 tons too many to be exact) so a company salesman named Jerry Thomas had the idea to create a packaged dinner on aluminum trays. After an assembly line of women scooped turkey, corn-bread dressing, peas, and sweet potatoes onto the trays, the TV dinner was born!
5 ) The Holiday
We bet you didn’t know that the woman who wrote “Mary Had A Little Lamb” is also the person responsible for making Thanksgiving an official holiday. After petitioning the government for 17 years, writer Sarah Josepha Hale finally convinced Abraham Lincoln in 1863 to make it a national holiday that took place every year on the fourth Thursday of November.
6 ) The Date
However, Thanksgiving hasn’t always taken place on the fourth Thursday in November. In 1939, FDR moved the holiday up one week to help boost retail sales during the Depression. So many people complained that it was eventually moved back to the original date in 1941. The Thanksgivings between those years are referred to as “Franksgivings” still today.
7 ) The Wishbone
Breaking wishbones to grant secret wishes isn’t an American original. The tradition was inherited from the British, who got it from the Romans, who adopted it from the Etruscans who believed that birds had oracle powers. When birds died they would keep the wishbone and stroke it as they made wishes, which isn’t too far off from the modern practice.
8 ) The Parade
Every year millions of Americans tune in to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, but did you know that the parade has European origins? In 1924, the store’s immigrant employees decided to celebrate the beginning of the Christmas season like they would have in their European homelands—with a parade with knights, jugglers and clowns. The balloons weren’t introduced until 1927.
9 ) The Football
Millions of Americans tune in to watch football on Thanksgiving every year and it all started because the owner of the Detroit Lions wanted to promote the game in his baseball-obsessed city and convinced NBC to broadcast the game. Ever since that first NFL broadcast in 1934, the Lions have played on every Thanksgiving except during WW2. The Dallas Cowboys joined in on this NFL tradition in the 60s and America has had its post-dinner plans figured out ever since.
10 ) The Friday After Thanksgiving
Ironically the name “Black Friday” was supposed to keep people from not going shopping on the day after Thanksgiving. Even though Black Friday is now one of the biggest shopping days of the year, in 1966 the Philadelphia Police Department started referring to the day of shopping deals as Black Friday in hopes that it would deter people from adding to the traffic and commotion before the Army-Navy football game that same weekend.