Thanksgiving is the favorite holiday of everyone who enjoys gorging themselves on turkey, watching football, and hanging out with family, but there are a lot of things many people don’t know about Thanksgiving or turkeys. For example, do you know what happens to the two turkeys that are given a presidential pardon every year? Or why we wish on a wishbone? Read on to find out the answers to those questions and others.
Number 10 is the national bird. Before the bald eagle came into play, the National Bird of the USA was almost the wild turkey, well, kind of. While the Smithsonian reports that the myth of the wild turkey is actually false, they do mention that Benjamin Franklin was quite displeased with the idea of the bald eagle representing America due to it’s “bad moral character,” as Franklin put it in a letter to his daughter.
“For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”
Speaking of the wild turkey, that brings us to number nine, flying turkeys. Myths abound that turkeys can’t fly. That’s simply not true. While domesticated turkeys can’t fly due to being deliberately fed a protein-based diet that beefs them up and gives them overly large breasts and odd proportions, wild turkeys can fly. In fact, while in flight, they can reach speeds of up to 55 mph!
Number eight on our list is all about those cute little baby turkeys. First off, have you ever wondered what baby turkeys are called? Chicks? Ducklings? Turklets? They’re actually called poults. Poults are also one of the few animals that are precocial, according to Discovery Blog. This means that from the moment they hatch, they are pretty self-sufficient. From the get-go are able to walk, run, and even feed themselves without help from mama turkey.
While you’re all sitting down to enjoy your turkey tonight, thanking those awesome pilgrims for their generosity on that first Thanksgiving, keep number seven in mind. Turkey wasn’t served on the first Thanksgiving. While we don’t really have a detailed menu of what was eaten on the first Thanksgiving, we do know that not only was turkey never mentioned in any written account of the feast — all accounts simply say “fowl” — it wasn’t even widely available at the time. More than likely, the “fowl” mentioned in accounts of the first Thanksgiving actually refers to more readily available birds such as duck, goose, and grouse.
Have you ever tried turducken? Do you know where the idea for the insanely rich meal came from? Number six on our list is here just for you guys. Famous Chef Paul Prudhomme claims to have invented turducken. Of course, Prudhomme didn’t actually invent the dish itself, as recipes dating back to the 1800s include similarly multi-stuffed birds, he did, however, trademark the word “turducken” in 1986.
Number five comes to us via the White House and their pardoned turkeys. Every year since President George H.W. Bush gave a turkey an official pardon on Thanksgiving in 1989, at least one turkey has been saved from slaughter by the president every year. But what happens to those lucky little guys after they’re issued their pardons? Well, sadly, they don’t survive long past Thanksgiving day. According to Dean Norton, the director at Mount Vernon in charge of livestock, who spoke to CNN about the pardoned Thanksgiving turkeys, they don’t typically survive all that long past Thanksgiving due to their breeding. In fact, every single turkey given a Thanksgiving pardon by President Obama in previous years has already died.
“The birds are fed in such a way to increase their weight. [Americans] want a nice big breasted turkey and so they are fed high protein diet and they get quite large. The organs, though, that are in this bird are meant for a smaller bird. They just can’t handle the extra weight, so they end up living not as long [as wild turkeys].”
Coming in at number four we have the history of the wild turkey in Europe. Wild turkeys are native to North America and are only found on this continent. Spanish conquistadors took the wild turkey from the Aztecs and brought them to Europe, where they were bred and domesticated. According to Discovery, wild turkeys are also one of only two species native to North America to be domesticated.
Number three is for all of you who find yourselves in hot water while cooking your grand Thanksgiving feast. If something goes awry while you’re prepping for your Thanksgiving dinner, who do you call? Well, apparently, not only are there hotlines with real people on the other end waiting to help fix your Thanksgiving mishaps, there’s also an app for that. Food52 has released a hotline app that allows you to connect directly with knowledgeable food writers and cookbook authors right from your iPhone! And if you are without an iPhone this Thanksgiving, you can also give a call to the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line at 1-800-BUTTERBALL to get connected with one of 50 trained foodie professionals who will help you with all your Thanksgiving dinner questions.
While you’re feasting, you may need to come up with some quick conversation fodder. Number two on our list should help out. Where does the tradition of wishing on a wishbone come from? The idea that turkey (or chicken) wishbones could foretell the future comes from the ancient Etruscans, who used chickens in a bizarre divination ritual called alectryomancy (“rooster divination”). After drawing a circle on the ground with letters of the Etruscan alphabet written around it, they would place food on the letters and put the chicken in the middle of the circle. Whatever order the chicken ate the food would be noted down and used by priests to tell the future.
Once the chicken was killed, the wishbone — or furcula — was dried out, and people would stroke the bone and make wishes on it. Eventually, the Romans would adopt this practice, but, due to a shortage of chickens, the Romans opted to have two people each hold a side of the wishbone, make a wish, and then pull, leaving whoever had the bigger half of the bone the one whose wish would come true. This practice was then eventually adopted by the English and then brought to the New World by English settlers.
And finally, we come to number one on our Thanksgiving list. Where do you go if you’re alone on Thanksgiving? If you live in Michigan, you’ve lucked out. There’s a restaurant in Northville called George’s Senate Coney Island Restaurant that gives a free meal to diners eating alone on Thanksgiving. In an interview with ABC News, restaurant owner George Dimopoulos — who posted a sign on the door of his restaurant reading “George’s Thanksgiving Day Dinner. If anyone is home alone, come eat with us for free! All day!” — said that he does this every year because he knows what it feels like to be alone on family holidays like Thanksgiving.
And that, right there, is the true spirit of Thanksgiving.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
[Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]