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Want to impress your family at the Thanksgiving table? Here’s some facts and stats about the holiday

You can use these facts and statistics about Thanksgiving to impress your family at the dinner table on Thursday.

Thanksgiving is a holiday that’s fairly easy to comprehend on a fundamental level. You gather with as much family as you can and eat one of the biggest meals you’ve had all year. That’s more or less the gist, but Thanksgiving has had a history that’s gone through a lot of change over hundreds of years, and the particular trappings of the holiday make for some interesting fun facts.

Where did Thanksgiving come from?

  • The holiday has its roots in English traditions and religious celebrations dating back to the Protestant Reformation. Namely, the idea came from a Puritan tradition where many Church holidays were replaced with “Days of Fasting” or “Days of Thanksgiving.”
  • This activity made its way to North America with the Pilgrim’s arrival in New England, and was immortalized by a well-documented 1619 celebration and the famous, but less documented, 1621 Thanksgiving at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts.
  • This is also where the holiday got its association with Native American culture and imagery, derived from the 1621 Plymouth Thanksgiving, where about 50 Pilgrims celebrated the holiday with a group of Native Americans who had helped them survive the previous winter by giving them food in times of scarcity.
  • Thanksgiving would spend the next 300 years as a holiday celebrated at a smaller scale than it is now, with the date the celebration took place on varying from state to state until around the turn of the 19th century, where it became customary to celebrate it on the last Thursday of November. This was formalized at the federal level by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939, who decreed the holiday to be on the next to last Thursday in November, it was changed again two years later to fall on the fourth Thursday.

Turkey numbers

  • You may be familiar with the Presidential tradition of Turkey pardoning. This practice began in 1989 when President George H.W. Bush officially pardoned a turkey for the first time.
  • The turkey who visits the White House doesn’t go alone. A second turkey is sent with it as a backup.
  • Estimates places the numbers of turkeys killed every year for Thanksgiving to be around 46 million.
    • On the other hand, alternative meats are becoming more popular, with about 65% of Americans saying they would like to have something else on the table, with the most popular substitutes being ham, chicken, and roast beef.
  • The average cost of a 16-pound whole frozen turkey is about $12, with total turkey sales reaching an estimated $552 million every year.

Thanksgiving dinner totals

  •  The popularity of many Thanksgiving dishes was researched, and these percentages represent the number of people who said a certain dish was their favorite:
    • Turkey: 39%
    • Stuffing: 23%
    • Pumpkin Pie: 12%
    • Mashed Potatoes: 9%
    • Sweet Potatoes: 6%
    • Cranberry Sauce: 3%
  • Wine is also incredibly popular as the Thanksgiving drink of choice for adults, with 63% planning to open up a bottle, with beer and spirits trailing at 19% and 10%, respectively.
  • The average cost of a 10-person Thanksgiving dinner comes out to about $48.90, but the most expensive Thanksgiving dinner reached a bill of $150,000 at New York City’s Old Homestead Steakhouse in 2018.
  • Americans eat an estimated 8.1 billion calories every year for the holiday, with the average person taking in about 3,000 to 4,500. If he reaches that higher estimate, the average man will take about 10 hours and 33 minutes to burn those calories off.

Travel and safety stats

  • An estimated 54.3 million Americans will travel for over the Thanksgiving holiday period this year, which has been the highest estimate since 2005.
  • 89.5% of those travelers will be driving to their destination, dwarfing the 7.8% of people who are going by plane, and the even fewer who travel via other means.
  • With an increase in car travelling, the number of vehicle accidents rises with it. An estimated 433 people die each Thanksgiving weekend from fatal traffic incidents and 49,400 are seriously injured.
  • The increase in home cooking also comes with its own risks. The number of fires started by home cooking on Thanksgiving are about triple the average for a typical day. Thanksgiving fires result in an average of $19 million of damage to residential buildings and  about five deaths.

Other traditions

  • Football has become an important part of many families’ Thanksgiving experience. The tradition was started by the intense rivalry of the Yale-Princeton match in 1876.
  • In 1920, the NFL began scheduling games for Thanksgiving day, and the sport became a staple of the holiday. Since 1966, the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys have hosted matches every Thanksgiving.
  • What we know today as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was first held in 1924 (it was originally called the Macy’s Christmas day Parade, despite taking place a month before that holiday. It was renamed three years later.)
  • The parade travels a distance of 2.65 miles through New York City, with over 8000 participants
    • Including 1,200 dancers and cheerleaders, 1,000 clowns, 26 parade floats, and 12 marching bands.
    • 1,000 New York Police officers on on patrol for the event.
    • About 3.5 million people attend the parade in person, while an estimated 50 million watch it on TV.

What are we thankful for?

  • These percentages of people gave the following common answers to that important question:
    • Family: 88%
    • Health: 77%
    • Personal Freedom: 72%
    • Friends: 71%
    • Memories: 67%
    • Safety and security: 64%
    • Opportunities: 59%
    • Fun experiences: 53%
    • Achievements: 51%
    • Wealth: 32%


WalletHub contributed to this report.

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