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.

Lions Club’s Turkey Shoot starts this Sunday in Wilton

Lions Club’s Turkey Shoot starts this Sunday in WiltonThe Georgetown Lions Club is having its annual Turkey Shoot starting this Sunday Oct. 30, and every Sunday thereafter, Nov. 6, 13 and 20, from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Lions Baseball field south of Caraluzzi’s on Route 7 to Old Mill Road. All proceeds go to local charities in towns including Redding, Wilton and Weston.

Participants don’t shoot a live turkey. There are 12 shooters (12 and older) per round. Each round cost $5. They shoot a shotgun with a buckshot at a target approximately 100 meters away. The person with the most buckshot in the black part of their target wins a gift certificate. There is also a “lucky shoot,” where for $1, a participant’s name is placed in a circle on the target. One of the club’s members shoots a buckshot at it and the circle with the most holes wins.

National Dessert Day

Semi-Homemade Magazine -I don’t really need a reason to eat dessert. (What!? Brownies aren’t breakfast?)

But since today is National Dessert Day, now I have another reason.

Clearly the best part of any meal, dessert comes in many forms. Cakes, puddings, ice creams, pies: they all are items that we consider dessert. Even if you are inept in the kitchen, throw some whipped cream on strawberries and you have – you guessed it – dessert.

Some pastry chefs have blurred the lines a bit, by adding unexpected twists like black pepper ice cream or tarragon crème brulee.  These savory elements appeal to those who prefer something a bit less on the sweet side.

As one who eats less turkey on Thanksgiving in order to save room for dessert, National Dessert Day is now my favorite food holiday. So take out your cake pans, turn on your ovens, and prepare this Black Forest Cake that is ridiculously easy to make and incredibly delicious. With a box of chocolate cake mix, cherries and whipped cream, you, too, can celebrate a national holiday that is very dear to my heart.

Try this treat today and give the leftovers away. Otherwise, you’ll be eating it for breakfast like I do.

Lions Club Rap Video “Rockin’ the Vest”

Lions RapLions club members come together in this humorous hip hop video.
The lyrics focus on what wearing the yellow Lions club vest means to the community. Whenever a Lions club gets together, problems get smaller. And communities get better. That’s because we help where help is needed – in our own communities and around the world – with unmatched integrity and energy.
Our 46,000 clubs and 1.35 million members make us the world’s largest service club organization.

To learn more, visit

Yo….Dial up that pacemaker G, I got something to say — the yellow vest posse – H. E. L to tha P. Comin ‘atchu now (the yellow vest posse)

Well you might see me cruising in my old folks ride
Blinkers been on since I got inside
You thinkin’ I’m a fogey, shuffleboardin’ old timer
But I’m a Lions clubs member, and a really good rhymer

You know I dress to impress, fly as I can be
Wear my yellow vest wheneva’ doin’ good deeds
I might kick it in the park, bent ova’ plantin’ trees
Or go collectin’ eyeglasses to help the kiddies see

Lions clubs! Lions clubs! No time for rest!
Lions clubs! Lions clubs! We be rockin’ the vest!
Lions clubs! Lions clubs! Straight up and doin’ more!
Lions clubs! Lions clubs! Lemme hear you roar! (Lions clubs yeah…come on)

Ballin’ in my driveway, I might look pretty lame
But I’m a mac-daddy neighbor, volunteering is my game
I can mend a broken sump pump, know how to dig a stump up
Pruning shears in my hand, I make yo’ rhodo-den-dron jump up

See I got skills to amaze you
Fall down I’m gonna raise you
You got a dry turkey sandwich?
I mayonnaise you (Oh yeah…I’m making your sandwiches)

Lions clubs! Lions clubs! No time for rest!
Lions clubs! Lions clubs! Stone cold rockin’ the vest!
Lions clubs! Lions clubs! Philanthropic to the core!
Lions clubs! Lions clubs! Back up we’re gonna roar!

If rappin’ is what it takes to get our message out
Then I’ll put my gums in motion, let my words be flowin’
You got a flag football team? [blows whistle] I start coachin’
(Yeah. Flag football)

See I’m more than a guy out sellin’ raffle tickets
I feed the hungry, help the helpless, tell the selfish where to stick it
That’s why I’m thumpin my Lions club chest
Now it’s your turn to put on the yellow vest
(Yeah. What up Lion.)

Lions and friends prepare holiday boxes for local families in need

By Paul Garrod
community basketsPAW PAW – For the past 29 years, the Christmas spirit has been evident in those who help with the Paw Paw Lions Club Community Christmas Baskets project.

And this year, is no exception. Volunteers have been busy at the Paw Paw Lions Club assembling 600 baskets that will be delivered early Saturday morning to families in Paw Paw, Lawton, Lawrence, Gobles and Mattawan, according to Don Brown, co-chairperson of the event.

The project began in 1979 by the Paw Paw Cub Scouts 169, when Brown was serving as Cub Master. Two families each received a bushel basket from the group. As the years went by, Brown’s son, Don, oversaw the project to earn an Eagle Scout badge. His goal was to collect 50 baskets, where previously 27 baskets had been done.
This year, the project will serve 187 families, up from 155 families last year, according to Brown. The baskets will contain canned goods, pastas, cake mixes, milk, butter, eggs, turkey ham, hot dogs and hamburger. Children will receive toys, games, hats, scarves and gloves.
Brown said family names have come from Paw Paw schools, churches, Social Services, call-in, and other organizations and governmental agencies.
The community has stepped forward in helping out with the project, according to Brown.
“The community aspect of the whole thing is gigantic,” said Brown.
Donations of food, along with financial support have come from Paw Paw area schools and churches, service organizations, St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, Lawton, the Paw Paw Kiwanis and Lions clubs and the Jan Groenland Christmas Basket Memorial Fund.
Brown’s wife, Marsha, co-chairperson for the project, says the recipients appreciate the community’s efforts.
“We receive nice letters and cards. It’s very touching,” Brown said. “The people are grateful. You can’t stop doing it. It’s a good community that we live in.”
This year’s project marked help from a third generation of Brown, Don and Marsha’s grandchildren, Gabby Oh, 4, and Ethan Oh, 3, all of Paw Paw. On Tuesday night, the Browns’ daughter, Nichole, 33, who began helping with the project when she was six years old, and Ethan, helped assemble the baskets.
For the past several years, the group met at the Lawton Community Center. However, due to bookings at the Community Center this December, the group couldn’t use the site.
From Dec. 14, until Dec. 20, when the items are shipped out, volunteers have been working feverishly at the Lions Club building to complete the project. When the last basket is removed from the Lions Club building on Saturday, the building will be transformed back into its former self for Sunday bingo.
“With any good luck, we’ll be out of here by noon on Saturday,” said Marsha.