by Janet Spencer

Come along with Tidbits as we eat Thanksgiving dinner!


Historians don’t know much about the first Thanksgiving dinner, held in Massachusetts in 1621 and shared by the Plymouth Colony pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe. The only surviving account of that auspicious day, written by English settler Edward Winslow, describes a week-long harvest celebration. He doesn’t specify the date, which was likely in mid-October. Winslow never mentioned the word “Thanksgiving” or listed what was served.

• About 90 Wampanoag men, 50 Pilgrim men, and 4 or 5 Pilgrim women attended the feast. By that time, 78 percent of the women who came over on the Mayflower had died. The Wampanoag tribe suffered a devastating epidemic the previous year that killed somewhere between 75 and 90 percent of their numbers. These facts are usually left out of the story of how Thanksgiving began.

• In polls, Americans rate Thanksgiving as their second favorite holiday, right behind Christmas. Through the years, the Thanksgiving legend, and the traditions that surround it, grew into the holiday we enjoy today. Here are some facts about the modern version of Thanksgiving.

Americans eat nearly 46 million turkeys on Thanksgiving, compared to 22 million at Christmas and 19 million on Easter. Fully half of all whole turkeys eaten in the U.S. are consumed on Thanksgiving Day.

• It’s estimated that 88 percent of Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving. About 19 percent of Thanksgiving meals include ham in addition to turkey.

• About 13 percent of Americans order takeout or go to a restaurant rather than prepare a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

• In 2021, American farmers raised about 217 million turkeys. Minnesota turned out the most at 40.5 million birds. The 450 turkey farms in the state provide about 18 percent of all turkeys sold in the United States yearly. North Carolina comes in second with 30 million, followed by Arkansas at 27 million.

• Americans ate about 15 lb (6.8 kg) of turkey per person in 2021, spread over the entire year. An average of one pound of that (0.45 kg) was consumed on Thanksgiving Day.

• The average turkey, alive and walking around, weighed 17 pounds (7.7 kg) in 1960. That increased to 19 pounds (8.6 kg) by 1980, and rose to 31 pounds (14 kg) today. By comparison, the average adult American man weighed an average of 166 pounds (75 kg) in 1960, but weighs about 198 pounds (90 kg) today.

• After processing, the average whole turkey today weighs about 16 pounds (7.2 kg). For each pound of roasted whole turkey, about 71 percent is composed of edible meat.

• When deciding how big of a turkey to get, the rule of thumb is to choose one that weighs one pound for each person expected to share it. The bigger the bird, the greater the ratio of meat to bones, so the cheaper the serving.

• The plastic piece or wire that holds the turkey legs together is called a “hock lock.”

According to Consumer Reports taste tests, there is no reason to choose a self-basting bird over one that is not self-basted. Basted birds have much more salt.

• A frozen whole turkey should be thawed in the fridge for 24 hours for each 5 lbs. (2.3 kg) of weight before being cooked.

• A turkey consists of 70 percent white meat and 30 percent dark meat. White meat has fewer calories and less fat than dark meat.

• Butterball, the North Carolina turkey producer, sells one out of every three whole turkeys purchased at Thanksgiving. The Butterball “Turkey Talk” hotline 1-800-BUTTERBALL was established in 1981 when six home economists answered about 11,000 questions about how to cook a turkey between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Today about fifty experts answer approximately 100,000 questions in November and December each year.

• In 1920, U.S. turkey growers produced one turkey per year for every 29 persons in the U.S. Today, growers produce about one turkey per year for every 1.5 people in the country.

• Turkey meat is higher in protein and lower in fat and calories than many other types of meat, averaging 26 percent protein and 11 percent fat. It has 25 percent less fat than roast beef, and 46 percent less fat than pork loin. Skin accounts for six percent of the bird’s weight. The highest fat concentrations are found in the skin and the pan drippings. Pan drippings are usually used as the base of turkey gravy. One hundred grams of cooked turkey skin has about 451 calories, while cooked white meat has only 176.

• About 40 percent of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup sales go toward making green bean casserole popular at Thanksgiving dinner.

Fully 20% of all whole cranberries sold in the U.S. are sold during Thanksgiving week. 80% of jellied cranberry sauce is sold during the Thanksgiving holiday. For the rest of the year, cranberries are primarily consumed as cranberry juice.

• Stuffing, so popular on Thanksgiving Day, is infrequently served outside the holiday. Kraft sells 40 million boxes of Stove Top Stuffing Mix between October and December each year. That sounds like a lot until you consider that Kraft Macaroni & Cheese sells about 1 million boxes a day all year long.

• Around 50 million pumpkin pies are consumed every Thanksgiving. 36% of people eat pumpkin pie for dessert on Thanksgiving, even though opinion polls show that America’s favorite pie is apple.

• The recipe for pumpkin pie has mostly stayed the same in the past 200 years. Cookbooks dating back to the late 1700s contain recipes similar to the modern method.   

• Around 31% of Americans travel for Thanksgiving. Of those, 47% drive rather than fly, and most will travel at least 50 miles (80 km).

• Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, there’s a 5% increase in heart attacks nationwide.

• More home-cooking-related fires occur on Thanksgiving than on any other day of the year.

• The average person gains one pound (0.45 kg)    between Thanksgiving and Christmas.


William Maxwell Evarts, Secretary of State in 1877, was asked to give a speech after an important Thanksgiving function. He rose and opened his speech by saying, “You have been giving your attention to a turkey stuffed with sage; you are now about to consider a sage stuffed with turkey.”