Urban Legends

Thanksgiving Facts Dismantled

After the first snow, wild turkeys run down the road in front of our Colorado cabin, descending from their mountain sanctuaries. Our son (pictured here) and family, love watching them. The critters race at full speed, hoping someone throws out some treats for them. It’s happens every morning until spring. I giggle because their two scrawny legs scramble at top speed to get somewhere unknown, clucking,  I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date! No time to say “Hello, Good Bye” I’m late, I’m late, I’m late! — (Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit, Alice in Wonderland.)

There is nothing creepy about Thanksgiving. Unless you are a Turkey. And I’m rather partial to the creature.

Thanksgiving is all about good food, family, friends, and, of course, giving thanks. However, the holiday has evolved over the years. And some things we thought were fact are not. And some are a bit creepy.

Ragamuffin Day

In big cities, especially those with large Irish population Thanksgiving was also known as Ragamuffin Day. A time for begging. Digital file from original neg.

In the early twentieth century, Thanksgiving resembled Halloween. In big cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, adults and children dressed in masks and costumes. Generally, costume themes portrayed poor folks. Children made it so popular in New York that for a time instead of the holiday being called Thanksgiving, it became Ragamuffins’ Day.

Lamb, anyone?

Author Sarah Hale accomplished making the cherished holiday a unified celebration. Painted by James Reid Lambdin (1807-1889)

In 1815, Thanksgiving fell out of favor with Americans. It wasn’t until Sarah Josepha Hale, author of Mary Had a Little Lamb,  petitioned several presidents to make it a national holiday that it became one.

She succeeded in 1865. At which time, President Lincoln issued a proclamation declaring a unified day of giving thanks. However, he did not establish the date of the holiday. Later, Lincoln made the holiday the last Thursday in November. It wasn’t until 1941 (some research says 1939) that President Franklin D. Roosevelt set the now-accepted date of the fourth Thursday in November.

Roosevelt’s reason: this gave an additional week to encourage earlier holiday shopping to boost our depressed economy. However, not all Americans approved of the date change and these unhappy souls compared Roosevelt to Hitler.

UFOs or a Parade?

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade 1934 featured Mickey.

The first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, 1924, was called Macy’s Christmas Parade and featured animals from the Central Park Zoo. And included elephants, camels, monkeys and bears.

Later, Macy’s adopted the popular character balloons we see today. Initially, organizers allowed the big balloons to float off into the sunset after the event was over. But, as soon as the balloons cleared the skyline, they burst, scattering onlookers in all directions.

Macy’s tried to gain some marketing advantages from the unfortunate chain of events by offering a $50 reward to anyone who found a deflated balloon and returned it. This practice continued until 1935.


For years, science labeled Tryptophan—an essential amino acid in turkey—as the culprit that activates the “sleepies” after eating our holiday meal. Recent medical research, however, reveals that turkey has no more tryptophan than any other poultry. Research suggests sleepiness after our holiday feast has more to do with our overindulgence in carbohydrates.

Thanksgiving Confusion

James Lord Pierpont, creator of the song Jingle Bells, never intended it to become a Christmas song. In 1850, he wrote it while visiting the Simpson Tavern in Medford, Massachusetts.

Sleigh bells inspired him, and he tapped out the song on the bar piano. The song became a hit among kids and adults. But Pierport wanted it be a Thanksgiving song. It became such a popular Christmas song, however, creative minds changed the lyrics and title to fit a Christmas theme.

Girls, What’s Up?

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The gobble, gobble we associate with all turkeys is only inclusive of males in this species. To top it all, on the first Thanksgiving celebrated in 1621, there is no record of turkey being on the menu, though the bird was plentiful. Instead, other fowl were served, like geese, ducks, and swans, to early settlers and American Indians.

Additionally, the first Thanksgiving was a three-day celebration. Fifty Pilgrims and ninety Wampanoag Indians attended. Historians believe only five women were present.


“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country… For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird.” — Benjamin Franklin in a letter to his daughter.

Even though the eagle became America’s symbol of freedom, Franklin’s letter inspired a song in the Tony-winning musical 1776, about the drafting of the Declaration of Independence.

The Scariest Fact

Americans eat forty-six million turkeys a year for our holiday enjoyment. I’m not a vegetarian. Nor am I advocating not eating turkey. But, question: What if the turkey had become America’s symbol for freedom like Franklin wanted? Would we be eating eagles?


Clara Bush
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6 replies on “Thanksgiving Facts Dismantled”

Clara, you never cease to amaze me. You are so very interesting and articulate. I miss you, sweet friend.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and Joe Bill. 🦅🦅

Pat!! My wonderful friend. Thank you for stopping by, commenting, and for your kind words. Hope you and Bob have a fantastic Thanksgiving and holiday season. Miss our Young’s Ranch holiday get to-togethers. Best of times. Miss you so much. —Clara

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