ST. GEORGE — On the fourth Thursday of November families across the country gather to feast on turkey, stuffing and all of the fixings and to watch football while others search for Santa during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

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But there are some zany facts behind the holiday’s origins and some of its longest-running traditions.

Probably the most jarring one – you may want to take a seat for this one – is that there is no evidence that turkey was served at the first Thanksgiving celebration that took place in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1621 honoring the autumn harvest. On that first Thanksgiving nearly 400 years ago, it was deer and local seafood, including mussels, lobster and bass, that adorned the table, as well as fruits of the first pilgrim harvest, including pumpkin. So there’s that.

However, by the turn of the 19th century, turkey had become a popular dish to serve for several reasons, the first being that it was plentiful.

The same holds true today, as it is estimated that more than 46 million turkeys will adorn the Thanksgiving table this year, enjoyed by more than 290 million Americans that will spend more than $1 billion on the festive bird this year that were grown on one of more than 2,500 turkey farms, most of which are family-owned, that raise nearly 230 million of the sleep-inducing foul every year.

In fact, 88% of all whole turkeys sold throughout the year in the U.S. are for the Thanksgiving meal, according to the US Department of Agriculture. 

But what about this crazy-looking bird before it hits the tables? Seeing as most Americans can find a reason to share this holiday, to take a moment for gratitude, should the day’s most familiar symbol be the national bird?

Well, while there is some question as to whether Ben Franklin actually wanted the turkey to be the official United States bird, there is no question as to Franklin’s sentiments about the bald eagle, a bird with “a bad moral character,” as Franklin wrote in a letter to his daughter.

Other turkey facts that may surprise you

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Turkeys have been around for more than 10 million years, and while domesticated turkeys cannot fly, wild turkeys can reach speeds of more than 50 mph for short distance flights and can run 20 mph.
Turkeys can see movement almost 100 yards away and see in color but cannot see at night.
Only tom turkeys gobble, and on a quiet day they can be heard from more than a mile away. Tom Turkeys also have beards, which are hair-like feathers on their chest.
A mature turkey is covered in more than 3,500 feathers, and while most feathers ultimately become compost, it is rumored that Sesame Street’s Big Bird costume was adorned with them.
Traditionally, turkey feathers were used to stabilize arrows, as well as adorn ceremonial dresses, while the spurs found on the Turkey’s legs were used as projectiles on arrowheads.
It takes 75-80 pounds of feed to raise a 30-pound tom turkey.
The heaviest turkey ever raised was 86 pounds, about the size of a large dog.
Turkey breeding has caused turkey breasts to grow so large that the turkeys fall over.

And when it comes to dinner, turkey was listed as the favorite food by Oprah Winfrey, William Shatner and B.B. King, and the first meal eaten in space by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin included turkey in addition to all of the trimmings packaged in tin foil.

Other crazy Thanksgiving facts

Thanksgiving rates as one of the top days for alcohol sales and consumption, and “Drinksgiving” – or Black Wednesday – is one of the busiest days for alcohol sales.

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Many say more alcohol is consumed because nearly every American has the day off and they get together with family and friends that they may not see often. Some even say that the Thanksgiving meal is the perfect hangover preventative, as it’s full of protein and starches and is typically an early meal. And those leftovers probably don’t hurt either, especially if you can throw in some fresh salad.

There is, however, an unfortunate side to the holiday, as Thanksgiving is one of the deadliest holidays on America’s roads. In Utah, five lives were lost in traffic crashes over the Thanksgiving weekend last year, according to Zero Fatalities Utah.

Some 50 million Americans will travel more than 50 miles to visit with family, according to AAA, and nearly 95 percent are traveling by car, an increase over last year. Drivers are encouraged to be aware of higher volume, be patient and put down the phones.

And be careful at home. The number of house fires reported on Thanksgiving more than triples over any other day of the year, with unattended cooking as the leading contributor to residential fires and death, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

And on an even darker note, Roto-Rooter, which provides plumbing repair and drain services, says “Brown Friday” is its busiest day of the year, as the company’s customer calls increase by 50 percent over an average on the Friday following Thanksgiving, and see a 21 percent uptick in business over any other four-day weekend period during the year.

But how did we get here? Who’s driving this country?

The Thanksgiving holiday took a confusing journey to become what is it today, and that confusion began long ago.

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In addition to not having a turkey, the first Thanksgiving also did not include women or children.

The first account of the holiday likely came from a letter written by Edward Winslow in which he describes a weeklong harvest celebration that included a three-day celebration with King Massasoit and 90 Wampanoag Indians.

The next Thanksgiving feast didn’t take place for another 170 years, when the first national Thanksgiving was declared by President George Washington in 1789 after the country’s victory in the colonial war and ratification of the Constitution. But the holiday was not yet celebrated annually.

It took another 74 years to become an actual national holiday, when President Abraham Lincoln designated the last Thursday of November as the official holiday in 1863.

Things went well until 1939, when the holiday was moved from the last Thursday in November to the third Thursday by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Pressured by the retail industry, he pushed the holiday up one week to allow for a longer holiday shopping season.

Massive confusion followed, with roughly half of the country refusing to follow Roosevelt, or his “Franksgiving,” as it was called, and went with the traditional holiday on the last Thursday of November, while the remaining states honored the newly declared date.

The states were divided until the issue was addressed two years later, when in 1941 Congress passed a law declaring that Thanksgiving would occur every year on the fourth Thursday of November, a date that has remained unchanged even today.

As to the giving of thanks, cultivating a sense of gratitude involves actively noticing the good things that are occurring in life, and this practice is one of the strongest links to mental health, many experts believe.

Just prior to the Thanksgiving celebration held in 1621, the Mayflower colonists suffered greatly during their first winter, which made the event fueled by gratitude for a bountiful harvest even more poignant, as many of them died that first year.

Even with the changes that have taken place over the years, it seems that gratitude still ranks as the “reason for the season.” A 2014 analysis conducted by Facebook’s data-science team discovered that Americans really are thankful for life’s most important things after analyzing thousands of Thanksgiving-related posts.

The analysts posted a question asking social network’s users to “write 3 things you are thankful for over the next 5 days,” which revealed that people are thankful for their friends, family and health, in that order.

The data also showed that men were thankful for their wives far more than anything else, but when it comes the other 90 percent of the data collected, women appreciated their husband, children, dogs, wine and comfortable beds fairly equally.

One interesting revelation was the most distinctive thing each state is thankful for after analysts tallied up the responses to determine which topics were listed most often.

Texans and residents of drier states are thankful for rain, while those in Kansas were grateful for Google, and Californians listed YouTube as something they were most grateful for, while Nevada and Idaho countered with country music. Washington State residents listed yoga, and it was Netflix in the No. 1 slot in New Hampshire.

In Utah, when asked what people were most grateful for, “heavenly Father” was listed most often.

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