Thanksgiving 2011 Myths and Facts

Brian Handwerk for National Geographic News

thanksgiving-dayBefore the big dinner, debunk the myths—for starters, the first “real” U.S. Thanksgiving wasn’t until the 1800s—and get to the roots of Thanksgiving 2011.

Thanksgiving Dinner: Recipe for Food Coma?

Key to any Thanksgiving Day menu are a fat turkey and cranberry sauce.

An estimated 248 million turkeys will be raised for slaughter in the U.S. during 2011, up 2 percent from 2010’s total, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. Last year’s birds were worth about U.S. $4.37 billion.

About 46 million turkeys ended up on U.S. dinner tables last Thanksgiving—or about 736 million pounds (334 million kilograms) of turkey meat, according to estimates from the National Turkey Federation. (See the Green Guide’s suggestions for having a greener—and more grateful—Thanksgiving.)

Minnesota is the United States’ top turkey-producing state, followed by North Carolina, Arkansas, Missouri, Indiana, Virginia, and Indiana.

These “big six” states produce two of every three U.S.-raised birds, according to data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau.

U.S. farmers will also produce 750 million pounds (340 million kilograms) of cranberries in 2011, which, like turkeys, are native to the Americas. The top producers are Wisconsin and Massachusetts.

The U.S. will also grow 2.4 billion pounds (1.09 billion kilograms) of sweet potatoes—many in North Carolina, California, and Louisiana—and will produce 1.1 billion pounds (499 million kilograms) of pumpkins.

Illinois, California, New York, and Ohio grow the most U.S. pumpkins.

But if you overeat at Thanksgiving dinner, there’s a price to be paid for all this plenty: the Thanksgiving “food coma.” The post-meal fatigue may be real, but the condition is giving turkeys a bad rap.

Contrary to myth, the amount of the organic protein tryptophan in most turkeys isn’t responsible for drowsiness.

Instead, scientists blame booze, the sheer caloric size of an average feast, or just plain-old relaxing after stressful work schedules.

(Take a Thanksgiving quiz.)

What Was on the First Thanksgiving Menu?

Little is known about the first Thanksgiving dinner in the Plimoth (also spelled Plymouth) Colony in October 1621, attended by some 50 English colonists and about 90 Wampanoag American Indian men in what is now Massachusetts.

We do know that the Wampanoag killed five deer for the feast, and that the colonists shot wild fowl—which may have been geese, ducks, or turkey. Some form, or forms, of Indian corn were also served.

But Jennifer Monac, spokesperson for the living-history museum Plimoth Plantation, said the feasters likely supplemented their venison and birds with fish, lobster, clams, nuts, and wheat flour, as well as vegetables such as pumpkin, squash, carrots, and peas.

“They ate seasonally,” Monac said in 2009, “and this was the time of the year when they were really feasting. There were lots of vegetables around, because the harvest had been brought in.”

Much of what we consider traditional Thanksgiving fare was unknown at the first Thanksgiving. Potatoes and sweet potatoes hadn’t yet become staples of the English diet, for example. And cranberry sauce requires sugar—an expensive delicacy in the 1600s. Likewise, pumpkin pie went missing due to a lack of crust ingredients.

If you want to eat like a Pilgrim yourself, try some of the Plimoth Plantation’s recipes, including stewed pompion (pumpkin) or traditional Wampanoag succotash.

(See “16 Indian Innovations: From Popcorn to Parkas.”)

First Thanksgiving Not a True Thanksgiving?

American Indian peoples, Europeans, and other cultures around the world often celebrated the harvest season with feasts to offer thanks to higher powers for their sustenance and survival.

In 1541 Spaniard Francisco Vásquez de Coronado and his troops celebrated a “Thanksgiving” while searching for New World gold in what is now the Texas Panhandle.

Later such feasts were held by French Huguenot colonists in present-day Jacksonville, Florida (1564), by English colonists and Abnaki Indians at Maine’s Kennebec River (1607), and in Jamestown, Virginia (1610), when the arrival of a food-laden ship ended a brutal famine.

(Related: “Four Hundred-Year-Old Seeds, Spear Change Perceptions of Jamestown Colony.”)

It’s the 1621 Plimoth Thanksgiving that’s linked to the birth of our modern holiday. The truth is the first “real” Thanksgiving happened two centuries later.

Everything we know about the three-day Plimoth gathering comes from a description in a letter wrote by Edward Winslow, leader of the Plimoth Colony, in 1621, Monac said.

The letter had been lost for 200 years and was rediscovered in the 1800s, she added.

In 1841 Boston publisher Alexander Young printed Winslow’s brief account of the feast and added his own twist, dubbing the 1621 feast the “First Thanksgiving.”

In Winslow’s “short letter, it was clear that [the 1621 feast] was not something that was supposed to be repeated again and again. It wasn’t even a Thanksgiving, which in the 17th century was a day of fasting. It was a harvest celebration,” Monac said.

But after its mid-1800s appearance, Young’s designation caught on—to say the least.

U.S. President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving Day a national holiday in 1863. He was probably swayed in part by magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale—the author of the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb”—who had suggested Thanksgiving become a holiday, historians say.

In 1941 President Franklin Roosevelt established the current date for observance, the fourth Thursday of November. (Learn how kids can give back this holiday season.)

Thanksgiving Turkey-in-Waiting

Each year at least two lucky turkeys avoid the dinner table, thanks to a presidential pardon—a longstanding Washington tradition of an uncertain origin.

Since 1947, during the Truman Administration, the National Turkey Federation has presented two live turkeys—and a ready-to-eat turkey—to the President, federation spokesperson Sherrie Rosenblatt, said in 2009.

“There are two birds,” Rosenblatt explained, “the presidential turkey and the vice presidential turkey, which is an alternate, in case the presidential turkey is unable to perform its duties.”

Those duties pretty much boil down to not biting the President during the photo opportunity with the press. In 2008 the vice presidential bird, “Pumpkin,” stepped in for the appearance with President Bush after the presidential bird, “Pecan,” had fallen ill the night before.

The lucky birds once shared the same happy fate as Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks—a trip to Disneyland’s Big Thunder Ranch in California, where they lived out their natural lives.

Since 2010, however, the birds have followed in the footsteps of the first president and taken up residence at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens.

After the holiday season, however, the two turkeys won’t be on public display. These fat, farm-fed birds aren’t historically accurate, like the wild birds that still roam the Virginia estate.

Talking Turkey

Pilgrims had been familiar with turkeys before they landed in the Americas.

That’s because early European explorers of the New World had returned to Europe with turkeys in tow after encountering them at Native American settlements. Native Americans had domesticated the birds centuries before European contact.

A century later Ben Franklin famously made known his preference that the turkey, rather than the bald eagle, should be the official U.S. bird.

But Franklin might have been shocked when, by the 1930s, hunting had so decimated North American wild turkey populations that their numbers had dwindled to the tens of thousands, from a peak of at least tens of millions.

Today, thanks to reintroduction efforts and hunting regulations, wild turkeys are back.

(Related: “Birder’s Journal: Giving Thanks for Wild Turkey Sightings.”)

Some seven million wild turkeys are thriving across the U.S., and many of them have adapted easily to the suburbs—their speed presumably an asset on ever encroaching roads.

Wild turkeys can run some 10 to 20 miles (16 to 32 kilometers) an hour and fly in bursts at 55 miles (89 kilometers) an hour. Domesticated turkeys can’t fly at all.

On Thanksgiving, Pass the Pigskin

For many U.S. citizens, Thanksgiving without football is as unthinkable as the Fourth of July without fireworks.

NBC Radio broadcast the first national Thanksgiving Day game in 1934, when the Detroit Lions hosted the Chicago Bears.

Except for a respite during World War II, the Lions have played-usually badly-every Thanksgiving Day since. For the 2011 game, the 72nd, they take on the Green Bay Packers.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

For a festive few, even turkey takes a backseat to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, originally called the Macy’s Christmas parade, because it kicked off the shopping season.

The tradition began in 1924, when employees recruited animals from the Central Park Zoo to march on Thanksgiving Day.

Helium-filled balloons made their debut in the parade in 1927 and, in the early years, were released above the city skyline with the promise of rewards for their finders.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, first televised nationally in 1947, now draws some 44 million viewers-not counting the 3 million people who actually line the 2.5-mile (4-kilometer) Manhattan route.

Thanksgiving weekend also boasts the retail version of the Super Bowl—Black Friday, when massive sales and early opening times attract frugal shoppers.

A National Retail Federation survey projects that up to 152 million Americans will either brave the crowds to shop on 2011’s Black Friday weekend or take advantage of online shopping sales.

Planes, Trains, and (Lots of) Automobiles

It may seem like everyone in the U.S. is on the road on Thanksgiving Day, keeping you from your turkey and stuffing.

Not everyone hits the road, but 42.5 million of about 308 million U.S. citizens will drive more than 50 miles (80 kilometers) from home for the 2011 holiday, according to the American Automobile Association.

An additional 3.4 million travelers will fly to their holiday destination and 900,000 others will use buses, trains, or other modes of travel. Thanksgiving travel numbers are slowly rebounding from a steep drop precipitated by the onset of the 2008 recession.

Thanksgiving North of the Border

Cross-border travelers can celebrate Thanksgiving twice, because Canada celebrates its own Thanksgiving Day the second Monday in October.

As in the U.S., the event is sometimes linked to a historic feast with which it has no real ties—in this case explorer Martin Frobisher’s 1578 ceremony, which gave thanks for his safe arrival in what is now New Brunswick.

Canada’s Thanksgiving, established in 1879, was inspired by the U.S. holiday. Dates of observance have fluctuated, sometimes coinciding with the U.S. Thanksgiving or the Canadian veteran-appreciation holiday, Remembrance Day—and at least once it occurred as late as December.

But Canada’s colder climate eventually led to the 1957 decision that formalized the October date.

Cooper County farmer wins $2,500 for Bunceton Lions Club

by: Boonville Daily News

Bunceton —

Keith Bail of Boonville has been selected as a winner in the America’s Farmers Grow Communities program, which gave farmers the opportunity to win $2,500 for their favorite local nonprofit organizations.

The Monsanto Fund sponsors the program, and winning farmers designate a local nonprofit organization to benefit from the donations. Bail has designated Bunceton Lions Club Building Project, located in Bunceton, to receive the donation.

Bail said he is very excited to have been selected as the winner for Cooper County. “We’re excited that we can better our rural community through the Grow Communities program.”

Brian Emde, Bunceton Lions Club President, said, “Being in a small rural community, the Bunceton Lions Club has to have many fundraising events over several years to provide funds needed for a major project. These funds will be used to help us provide handicap access to our facility, so we can be an even greater community resource. Our thanks to the Monsanto Fund and Keith Bail who provided the opportunity. The Bunceton Lions Club is both honored and grateful.”

The $2,500 donation was awarded at a ceremony held April 11 at the Bunceton Lions Club.

In more than 1,200 eligible counties, farmers can win $2,500 for their favorite community non-profit. The Monsanto Fund expects to invest more than $3 million in local communities. Previous Grow Communities projects resulted in the donation of nearly $1.2 million in 477 counties in Arkansas, California, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, and South Dakota. In total, more than $320,000 has been donated to nonprofits in Missouri.

The America’s Farmers Grow Communities program is part of a broad commitment by the Monsanto Fund, the philanthropic arm of Monsanto Company, to highlight the important contributions farmers make every day to our society by helping them grow their local communities. To date, more than 60,000 farmers participated in the program, which is designed to benefit nonprofit groups such as ag youth, schools and other civic organizations. Visit to view a complete list of winners.

Lions gather for good food, to give to Haiti relief efforts

With the Leadership and inspiring passion to serve others, Roxboro Lion Alan Michael, manager of Golden Corral Family Restaurant in Garner, the people and aid workers of Haiti will receive needed funds. With endorsement from Golden Corral Headquarters and General Manager Al Gauge, the entire restaurant staff, other community service organizations, the Garner Police Department, the Garner-Raleigh community, and the Lions Clubs from District G raised $1,182.43 for LCIF Disaster relief efforts in a country few had ever visited.

These necessary funds were raised in only four hours. In the local depressed economy, everyone attending was aware of the needs for compassion towards the people in Haiti. Golden Corral also added to the effort with financial aid from part of the guests meal purchase. LCIF and the needs of people in Haiti also won over our guests and new friends within the Garner Police Department. A Garner Civitan called his Civic Club members to become a part of this exciting effort.

Partnering with Lions Clubs, Golden Corral is not new to stepping up to the needs of communities and their citizens around the world. Always generous in extending assistance for the local communities, the needs of Lions, and around the world, Golden Corral is a leader and sets an example to businesses throughout the world with the necessity of offering assistance when needed. The Garner Golden Corral and management answered the immediate need in both the LCIF-Katrina and LCIF-China efforts by raising needed funds for relief in those LCIF efforts. This was the same kind of partnership and event held. As a long standing member of the Roxboro Lions Club and past LCIF Sight-First II Coordinator, Lion Alan Michael has the insight to employee quality compassionate people who know what needs truly are. His staff is multi-culture in background and he has had to learn three languages to be able to communicate in his daily duties. The Golden Corral service and support staff donated their hard earned income as well for this effort. An event like this makes is fun however, it is harder for the service staff because of the people involved trying to serve the guests, informing everyone about what Lions accomplish through LCIF.

The Garner Police Department, “McGruff the Crime Dog”, met and greeted everyone that entered the restaurant. McGruff never missed the opportunity to have his picture taken with those that were young as well as those that were young at heart. The Police officers took care of the tables and serviced needs while the Lions of District 31-G, worked with the dinner guests by meeting their immediate needs for fun, knowledge and informational flyers with dinner. Lions filled in to take care of any gaps in service for the guests. Lions handed out flyers, explained what Lions accomplish both locally and globally, LCIF, and community needs within the State of North Carolina. Laughs, conversation, education and Service to Others made this a great night for everyone involved.

Just as “Lions Clubs International Foundation working with local Lions Clubs members with boots on the ground” at the Disaster site meet the timely needs in our world wide community and humanitarian efforts… previously stated from the immediate past Lions Clubs International Foundation President Al Brandel.

Every International Disaster in the recent years the Lions-Golden Corral Partnership has stepped up to be an important part of the cure for a disaster. The funding of a LCIF grant awarded to the country will secure a great future for Haiti in the years to follow this earthquake. The immediate grant aided in the initial disaster, the long term grant and relief efforts after others have left the country, this is what makes the Lions Clubs International Foundation different from others. Each dollar donated will make it to the relief effort and the goals of the rebuilding process. Outstanding humanitarian Lions Club members, like Alan Michael, have the unique opportunity to live up to the organizations motto, “We Serve!” This is what Lions Club Membership is all about, Service to Others.

Citizen Choice Awards: Garner Lions Club

By Lisa Mumma
Citizen Journalist

Editor’s note: The following is the fourth part in a six-part series of profiles on our Citizen Choice Awards honorees. Citizen Choice Awards is an award ceremony that recognizes people who exemplify what it means to be a Garner citizen. This week, we honor the Garner Lions Club for civic organization.

Winded from carrying several heavy boxes into the back door of the Garner Lions Club’s West Main Street facility, Jim Valsame, Gene English, Signal Ross and Kenny Lynch gathered on a recent afternoon to do a job. Having sorted into heaping piles more than 700 pieces of donated eyeglasses, lenses and hearing aids, including related accessories like cases and tiny batteries, they paused to admire the bounty before them.

“Our residents, eye care professionals, funeral homes and senior citizen organizations, among others, have been extremely generous this year,” said Ross, a Garner Lions Club member for more than 20 years who currently serves as club chaplain. “I’m thrilled with the number of boxes we get to pack and ship.”

Nurtured by parent organizations Lions Clubs International and the N.C. Lions Foundation, the Garner club, chartered in 1944, strives to improve the lives of the blind, visually impaired or hearing impaired by providing these individuals with opportunities to enjoy life fully and productively. Club members support these efforts through raising funds for prevention, research, education, recreation and emergency service programs to help eventually eliminate these impairments.

Club members also welcome and support collaborations with education, medical and recreational partners to create and maintain projects to meet its goal, such as funding clinical eye trials and radio reading services. The 21st-Century Vision Van travels the state, for example, providing free screenings in communities across North Carolina.

Valsame, a Lions Club member since the mid-1950s, was tapped to spearhead the SightFirst capital campaign early in his career to help the World Health Organization fight blindness in third-world countries. Inspired by Helen Keller’s challenge for the Lions Clubs to be the “Knights of the blind and deaf” when she addressed the N.C. Lions Foundation convention in 1935, Valsame also worked toward increasing the presence and reach of humanitarian campaigns such as the White Cane Fund for the Blind.

English, on the club rolls for more than 30 years, noted that club members across North Carolina enjoy volunteering at Camp Dogwood, a 54-acre resort on Lake Norman constructed to give visually impaired or hearing impaired kids a typical summer camp experience. He added that service options are endless and range from swinging a hammer, leading a hike or flipping pancakes. Clubs can also choose to sponsor kids to attend camp when funds at home fall short.

Propelled by the organization’s humble but clear motto, “We Serve,” the Garner club also directs its benevolence toward home. The legacy of its ball fields notwithstanding, in addition to subsidizing eye exams and glasses, hearing tests and aids, the club supports a long list of local charities such as Garner Area Ministries and the Linus Project. The Garner club partners with its neighboring club in Knightdale to sponsor the annual Dollars for Scholars golf tournament, which benefits area high school students who show potential for success in higher education endeavors.

“We don’t make a big deal about our work sometimes,” English said. “Lions Clubs are the best kept secret in the community.”

Lions Club leaders challenge members to charge ahead

Sun Journal

Dana Biggs, the Lions International directorDuring the current economic recession, Lions Club members should push to help the community more, several of the organization’s international leaders said Saturday.

About 400 Lions Club members from Burlington to Southport were in New Bern for the organization’s annual midwinter convention. On Saturday afternoon, almost 100 members had a chance to ask Dana Biggs, the club’s international director, questions during a “town hall” meeting at the Sheraton New Bern Hotel.

Warren Schmidt from Cary and Donna Gavette from Mount Olive listened well and took notes. Other Lions asked how to find membership pins and register for conventions on the Internet. Lions from Cape Fear, North Raleigh, New Bern and other clubs participated.

Biggs’ husband, Bill, told the members that they should find more money during the recession because communities need more help than ever.

“It’s not a time to pull our horns in,” he said. “If you have 10 projects, don’t say you can fund five and can’t find money for the other five. Find a way to fund all 10 projects.”

Dana Biggs said almost 1.4 million people in one of 206 countries belong to Lions clubs. Almost 70 people belong to the two Lions clubs in New Bern. Biggs is from the Fresno, Calif., area and joined the club because she saw a lot of women were joining the formerly all-male organization.

She said she also liked that the Lions participate in a lot of different projects.

“You could build a gazebo in a handicapped park or help a cancer society,” she said. “It’s just anything the community needs. That’s what makes this club so unique.”

Theresa Matthews of Denton said many Lions in North Carolina help blind people get jobs. She said some companies manufacture products like brooms, and 75 percent of the employees must be blind. Lions clubs sell the products the blind people make to help pay for community projects.

Tom Behm of Wilmington asked Biggs how his club could find brooms for a fund-raiser. He said several of the manufacturing companies have recently closed, which has made it hard to find the products.

“Some people seem to think brooms are synonymous with Lions,” Behm said. “So the brooms are very important to what we do.”

Biggs told Behm to talk to other people during the convention to find places to buy the brooms. She said Lions in California do not sell the brooms. Lions members from other clubs told Behm several organizations in Western North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia sell the brooms.

Biggs told Behm and the other Lions to support new clubs and members. She said the organization’s membership is rapidly expanding in Eastern Europe and China.

“There’s a place for everyone here,” she said. “Especially right now.”