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Thanksgiving: tradition, history and turkey trivia

Published: Monday, Nov. 22 2010 6:19 p.m. MST

"The First Thanksgiving" by Jean Leon Germon Feris (1863-1930)

The Pilgrims, who set sail from Plymouth, England on a ship called the Mayflower on Sept. 6, 1620, were bound for the resourceful "New World." The Mayflower was a small ship crowded with men, women and children, besides the sailors on board. Aboard were passengers comprising the "separatists," who called themselves the "Saints", and others, whom the separatists called the "Strangers."

After land was sighted in November following 66 days of a lethal voyage, a meeting was held and an agreement of truce was worked out. It was called the Mayflower Compact. The agreement guaranteed equality among the members of the two groups. They merged together to be recognized as the "Pilgrims." They elected John Carver as their first governor.

Although Pilgrims had first sighted the land off Cape Cod, Mass., they did not settle until they arrived at a place called Plymouth. It was Captain John Smith who named the place after the English port-city in 1614 and had already settled there for over five years. And it was there that the Pilgrims finally decided to settle. Plymouth offered an excellent harbor and plenty of resources. The local Indians were also non-hostile.

But their happiness was short-lived. Ill-equipped to face the winter on this estranged place, they were ravaged thoroughly.

They were saved by a group of local Native Americans, the Wampanoag, who befriended them and helped them with food. Soon the natives taught the settlers the technique to cultivate corns and grow native vegetables, and store them for hard days. By the next winter they had raised enough crops to keep them alive. The winter came and passed by without much harm. The settlers knew they had beaten the odds and it was time to celebrate.

They invited the Wampanoag and celebrated with a grand community feast that lasted three days. It was kind of a harvest feast the Pilgrims used to have in England.

However, the third year was real bad when the corns got damaged. Pilgrim Governor William Bradford ordered a day of fasting and prayer, and rain happened to follow soon. To celebrate, Nov. 29 of that year was proclaimed a day of thanksgiving. This date is believed to be the real beginning of the present Thanksgiving Day.

SOURCE: theholidayspot.com/thanksgiving/trivia.htm

Thanksgiving wasn't a national holiday until 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln released a proclamation, officially establishing the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving. The Thanksgiving holiday was later moved to the fourth Thursday in November by President Franklin Roosevelt to extend the Christmas shopping season and improve the economy.

Earlier the presidents used to make an annual proclamation to specify the day when Thanksgiving was to be held.

Cornucopia, also known as the "horn of plenty," is the most common symbol of a harvest festival. A horn-shaped container, it is filled with abundance of harvest. The traditional cornucopia was a curved goat's horn filled to brim with fruits and grains. According to Greek legend, Amalthea (a goat) broke one of her horns and offered it to Greek God Zeus as a sign of reverence. As a sign of gratitude, Zeus later set the goat's image in the sky also known as the constellation Capricorn.Benjamin Franklin thought the turkey, and not the bald eagle, should be the national symbol of America. He claimed that the "vain and silly" turkey was a far better choice than the bald eagle, which he thought was a "coward."

Turkeys can:

Fly up to 55 MPH over short distances

Run up to 25 MPH on the ground

Have excellent hearing but no ears

Have a poor sense of smell

See in color

Have a 270 degree field of vision, making them difficult to sneak up on

Sometimes sleep in trees

Over 45 million turkeys are prepared and eaten in the United States for Thanksgiving each year.

Only male "Tom" turkeys gobble, and they can be heard a mile away; the females only cluck or click.

Firkee is the Native American name for turkey.

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