How well do you know the history of Thanksgiving?


By: Abi Luftig

6 Min Quiz

Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

Thanksgiving is a beloved American tradition that makes us all homesick for eating a slice of Mom's pumpkin pie while the kids dress up as Pilgrims and turkeys. But how well do you know the holiday's origins?

The first Thanksgiving was celebrated by the settlers of what colony?

Plymouth Colony, the site of modern-day Plymouth, Massachusetts, existed from 1620 to 1691. The colony eventually ceased to exist when it was absorbed by the Province of Massachusetts Bay (a technicality that was aided by the legal loophole that Plymouth never got around to making a formal charter, a document that could have helped keep it independent).


What term were the Plymouth settlers commonly known by?

For most of modern history, people have thought the words "Pilgrim" and "Puritan" to be interchangeable, but this is not the case. Pilgrims, or as they were actually called, Brownist English Dissenters, were actually Puritans but felt the religious group could not continue to exist without separating completely from the Church of England.


From where did the Pilgrims originate?

It's true that the Pilgrims were English and set sail from Plymouth, Devon, England. However, many people might not know that the religious sect spent over a decade in Leiden, The Netherlands. They ultimately returned to England, fearing that their children were becoming too Dutch.


What is the name of the ship that brought the settlers to the New World?

Originally, the Pilgrims purchased two boats to bring them to America, The Mayflower and The Speedwell (originally called The Swiftsure). However, shortly after departure, The Speedwell began taking on water and was deemed unsafe. The supplies and passengers were crammed into The Mayflower, and the voyage was made with one ship.


How many settlers survived the dangerous and deadly first winter in Plymouth?

Due to a storm that broke its mast, the Mayflower was unable to steer and ended up much farther north than anticipated. To make matters worse, the Pilgrims arrived in the middle of December. Several members of the colony froze to death, many were injured, and the quickly depleting supply stores led to starvation.


What is the name of the Native American who helped the Pilgrims survive?

Squanto was a member of the Pawtuxet tribe who knew English after having sailed across the sea and spending time in England. But it is not a happy story. He sailed aboard a slave ship as a prisoner and most of his time in England was spent in captivity. Eventually, he was able to secure a spot on an exploratory expedition, which brought him back to his homeland, where he broke free.


Which skill is NOT something Squanto taught the colonists?

Squanto taught the colonists many survival skills, but bow-hunting was not one of them. He did teach them how to plant corn and other vegetables, how to catch fish in a river, how to get maple sap from trees, and which local plants were poisonous.


Squanto helped to forge an alliance between the Pilgrims and the members of which Native American group?

Many people assume that Squanto was a member of the tribe invited to the first Thanksgiving, but the truth is not that simple. Squanto was from the Pawtuxet tribe, which is a part of the Wampanoag Confederacy. Since the Pawtuxet were largely wiped out by the time Squanto managed to return home, he ended up with the Pokanoket tribe, led by Massasoit. Since Massasoit was sachem of Wampanoag, all the tribes were included in the alliance.


What fruit is used to make a sauce at Thanksgiving?

Cranberry sauce has become a staple of Thanksgiving, but it was likely not in sauce form at Plymouth. Historians believe that the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims ate plain cranberries. The settlers named the berries crane-berries because the flowers that grow on cranberry plants resembled the long neck of a crane. Interesting tidbit: ripe cranberries bounce.


How long did the feast last?

The first Thanksgiving lasted three days. According to Pilgrim Edward Winslow, the feast was attended by 53 Pilgrims and 90 Native Americans.


What meat was not served at the feast?

Despite its modern popularity, turkey was not served at the first Thanksgiving. Historians believe the menu consisted of venison (deer), duck, goose, oysters, lobsters, eel, and fish.


What kind of pie did the Pilgrims make for the feast?

There were no pies, cakes, or any other pastries served at the first Thanksgiving. This is for two reasons. First of all, the Pilgrims had no ovens in which to bake pies. Secondly, what little sugar they had brought with them had long since been depleted, making baked goods impossible.


Which state was the first to make Thanksgiving an official state holiday?

Throughout the 1700s, most colonies celebrated informal and unofficial Thanksgiving feasts, but nothing was legal until New York officially adopted an annual Thanksgiving holiday in 1817. This inspired many other Northern states to follow suit, but the South did not really know of the holiday for many years to come.


Which President made Thanksgiving an official national holiday?

The idea of a national Thanksgiving had been around for a long time, but it didn't become a reality until 1863. Feeling that a day of giving thanks would provide unity and a boost of morale to the besieged Union in the midst of the Civil War, Lincoln declared that a national Thanksgiving Day was to be held every November.


What is the unofficial meat of Thanksgiving?

Despite not being a part of the first Thanksgiving, turkey has become synonymous with the holiday. According to the National Turkey Federation (yes, that's a real thing), nearly 90 percent of Americans eat the bird on Thanksgiving. Presumably, the remaining 10 percent​ eat Tofurkey or another meat-free alternative.


Which department store sponsors a parade every year on Thanksgiving?

It's difficult to imagine Thanksgiving morning without the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, but there was no such thing until 1924. While being the most famous, Macy's is not the only, or even the oldest, Thanksgiving parade. It is tied for second-oldest with Detroit's America's Thanksgiving Parade, and both were started four years after Philadelphia's 6abc Dunkin' Donuts Thanksgiving Day Parade.


What presidential action is bestowed upon a turkey every Thanksgiving?

The annual presentation of a turkey to the President began during the Truman administration, but no turkeys were officially pardoned until the Reagan era, as a joke to deflect questions about the pardon of Oliver North. The pardoned turkey is allowed to live to a ripe old age on a farm in Virginia.


Which country is said to have had the real first Thanksgiving feast between Europeans and Native Americans?

The English may not have been the first to have Thanksgiving. It was never officially called "Thanksgiving," but records indicate that Spanish explorers sailing under the command of Pedro Menéndez de Avilé shared a celebratory meal with the local Timucua tribe as a way to celebrate their safe arrival in what is now St. Augustine, Florida. This is documented to have happened in 1565, more than half a century before Plymouth.


A feast to celebrate the harvest is not a modern occasion. Which ancient culture had similar feasts?

The English (and Spanish) were likely inspired to host a harvest feast by tales of ancient societies. The ancient Greeks held an annual three-day festival to honor Demeter, the goddess of corn and grains. The Romans had a similar tradition to honor Ceres, the goddess of corn. Ancient (and modern) Jews celebrate a harvest festival on the holiday of Sukkot.


What is the name of the fruit-filled horn often depicted?

One of the most recognizable Thanksgiving decorations is the cornucopia, a horn-shaped basket filled with fruits and vegetables. The word "cornucopia" comes from the Latin "cornu copiae," which translates to "horn of plenty."


In response to the treatment of Native Americans throughout history, a protest movement has led to the creation of what day?

It's no secret that relations between Native Americans and settlers have gone steeply downhill since the first Thanksgiving. In 1970, a protest gathered on Thanksgiving at Coles Hill, overlooking Plymouth Rock.


What is the name of the bone that is traditionally snapped after dinner?

It's become a tradition for the wishbone, a bone attached to the turkey's breastbone, to be snapped after dinner (once it has had a chance to dry out and become brittle). Families often allow the youngest two members in attendance to hold the wishbone, make a wish, and pull until the bone snaps. Whoever is left holding the largest chunk of the bone is said to have their wish granted.


Every year, TV station TNT plays a marathon of which movie for 24 hours straight?

In 1997, TNT decided to air "24 Hours of A Christmas Story," a marathon of twelve consecutive showings of "A Christmas Story." In recent years, the marathon has spread to TNT's sister station TBS, with the stations staggering broadcast times.


When does Canada celebrate Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving has been celebrated in Canada since 1879, but had no set date and often popped up in other seasons. In 1957, The Governor General of Canada issued a proclamation that Thanksgiving was to be celebrated the second Monday in October.


What vegetable is the star of a soup-based casserole dish?

One of the most beloved Thanksgiving side dishes, green bean casserole consists of green beans, fried onions, and cream of mushroom soup. The recipe was created by Campbell's in 1955 as a way to boost sales of cream of mushroom soup. The company now sells $20 million worth of cream of mushroom soup a year, most of it around Thanksgiving.


What is the name of the day after Thanksgiving?

Some people are unclear about why the day after Thanksgiving, considered to be "the biggest shopping day of the year," is called Black Friday instead of Green Friday, to reflect the greenbacks rolling in. The term dates back to the 1960s when shop ledgers were filled out by hand. Losses were recorded in red ink and profits were recorded in black ink.


Thanksgiving is responsible for the creation of what modern convenience?

Believe it or not, TV dinners have Thanksgiving, and an error in estimation, to thank for their existence. In 1953, Swanson overestimated how many turkeys they would sell that year, and ended up with an extra 26 tons of turkey meat! Someone came up with the idea to slice up the turkeys, add some trimmings and side dishes, freeze the meal, and sell it.


What year did the first Thanksgiving take place?

Despite making an alliance and celebrating in 1621, Massasoit did not fully trust the Pilgrims until two years later. In 1623, he fell gravely ill and was nursed back to health by colonial leader Edward Winslow. Winslow later said that Massasoit said, "the English are my friends and love me... whilst I live I will never forget this kindness they have showed me."


Which state produces the most turkeys annually?

The Land of 10,000 Lakes isn't just good for lakes. Minnesota has the most turkey farms in the nation and produces more turkeys per year than any other state. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that the state of Minnesota raised close to 46 million turkeys in 2015.


What can wild turkeys do that domesticated turkeys cannot?

Not all turkeys are raised on farms. The eastern half of the United States is home to several species of wild turkey, and unlike domesticated turkeys, wild turkeys can fly. They can only travel short distances, but they can reach up to 55 mph!


What Thanksgiving dish has the most varieties (and is the most contested on how to make properly)?

Stuffing is a Thanksgiving staple but varies from region to region. In the South, it is often made from cornbread, as opposed to the white bread base found in other parts of the country. Other ingredients might be added to the stuffing, depending on where the chef originates. These include oysters, apples, chestnuts, raisins, celery and turkey giblets.


Which founding father was not in favor of Thanksgiving?

Despite Washington decreeing unofficial Thanksgiving days, not all founding fathers were on board with making it an official holiday. Jefferson called the concept of an official Thanksgiving was “the most ridiculous idea I’ve ever heard.”


Besides retail, what is the busiest industry on Black Friday?

Retail isn't the only industry to have its busiest day on Black Friday. Indelicate as it may be to discuss, plumbers are the next busiest on Black Friday, or as they call it "Brown Friday." Between kitchen sinks, garbage disposals, and toilets, the average plumber sees a 50 percent spike in business the day after Thanksgiving.


What is the busiest night for bars?

Thanksgiving Eve is not just the busiest drinking night of the Thanksgiving season, it's the busiest drinking night of the entire year. Bars are even busier than St. Patrick's Day and New Year's Eve.


What is the busiest travel day of the season?

Counterintuitive though it may be, the majority of travel actually takes place on Thanksgiving Day itself. Ninety percent of Thanksgiving travel is done by car, while air, train, and bus combined make up the other 10 percent.


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