Thanksgiving is a major American tradition. We flock home to see our families; we eat the same meal every year. But how did the holiday become what it is, and will it stay this way?
Here are seven interesting Thanksgiving factoids to fill the uncomfortable silences at the dinner table between family members who don't really like each other but try to play nice during the holidays.
1) Thanksgiving was declared a national holiday in 1863, by President Lincoln.
That means that next year will be the 150th year of celebrating the holiday in the U.S. Lincoln’s decision to declare turkey day a national holiday was in part due to pressure and several letters from Sarah Josepha Hale, an editor of Godey's Lady's Book.
2) Football, now closely associated with the holiday by many, became so in 1934.
The new owner of the Detroit Lions scheduled a game for Thanksgiving Day as an attempt to build up the audience. He succeeded: the game was sold out. Years later, sitting on the couch and screaming at the TV like a lazy bum while your wife/mother slaves away in the kitchen is a highly regarded holiday tradition.
3) Besides being the mascot of the upcoming holidays, turkey is a multi-billion dollar industry.
248 millions turkeys were raised in America in 2011. More than 219 million of those turkeys were consumed in America. The National Turkey Federation (NTF) estimates that 46 million of those turkeys were eaten at Thanksgiving, 22 million at Christmas and 19 million at Easter. That means that 60% of American turkey consumption happened on just three days.
4) Nearly 88% of Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving, according to the NTF.
With an average turkey weight of 16 pounds, that means that on Thanksgiving 2011, America consumed about 736 million pounds of turkey. That’s more than the weight of all of the Play-Doh ever produced. This year production is up 2%, according to the Department of Agriculture, with 254 million turkeys raised in the U.S. in 2012.
5) The night before Thanksgiving is the biggest drinking day of the year.
It even beats out New Year’s Eve and Saint Patrick’s Day. Maybe it’s all the stress of family togetherness?
6) If climate change continues, we may end up paying more for our turkeys.
Climate change is already impacting agriculture, with farmers having to switch to crops that can thrive in the changed weather patterns. Mother Jones took a look at what this could mean for Thanksgiving if the changing weather patterns continue on the path they’re on now.
There will still be turkeys, but they’ll get ever more expensive as the price of grain on which they’re fed becomes more of a commodity due to droughts that decrease the crops. Turkey is the most expensive per pound it’s been in 10 years.
7) ...And our side dishes.
Apparently potatoes are in danger, too, which could ruin more than Thanksgiving dinner. Namely: everything. (Is life without potatoes worth living? Questionable.)
Potato production is already down in Idaho, which has spent millions of dollars so far to replenish the aquifer they need to irrigate potato crops, which require a lot of water. It will only get more expensive to grow them as the water supply continues to dwindle. Production is already down, according to the Idaho Statesman, which quoted Dr. Jim Ludes, Executive Director of the American Security Project as warning, “Potato yields — a source of Idahoan pride — could drop by 18%, an annual loss of over $141 million to the gross state product.”
Cranberries require a period of cold temperatures during which they go dormant in preparation for the spring bloom. Warmer winters, while great for humans, are bad for cranberries.
There’s a lot of speculation as to how our eating and farming habits will have to change along with the climate, but if the changes are as dramatic as some predict, we’ll probably miss the old ways most during holidays – tradition has a way of highlighting change by contrast.