Why do we do the things that we do?
In a little less than a week, most of the American population will sit down to celebrate an annual holiday to give thanks — and enjoy a smorgasbord of food, stuffing, and devour pies. We’ll stuff ourselves silly, eat a dinner at 3pm in the afternoon, and take one—or two—days off from work to enjoy a late-November weekend with family and friends.
Have you ever stopped to wonder why?
Why do we eat so much turkey, take time off, and celebrate a day of thanks — and giving?
What we do is a strange combination of habit, culture, and personal decision making. Because we love studying how we grow as people (mentally and, well, physically I suppose), we thought it would be fun to look at what we do and where this habit and holiday came from.
In order to change a habit, you have to know where it came from. So, while we won’t ask any of you to change your Thanksgiving habits if you’re die-hard turkey fans, we thought it would be fun to know where the word turkey actually came from and why we celebrate this holiday in the first place. Quiz yourself on the following fun turkey facts — and let us know if any of these surprised you (some of them surprised us)!
Did you know…
#1 — The Turkey was almost the national bird. It was a debate between the turkey and the eagle — and the eagle was thought to be scrawny, not regal. While it eventually became the eagle, if Benjamin Franklin had his way, we might have had a turkey as our national bird — and we wouldn’t be roasting it up to have on the dinner table.
#2 — There are TWO countries that celebrate Thanksgiving — it’s not just an American holiday. Both Canada and the United States celebrate with an annual Thanksgiving, but in Canada it falls on the second Monday in October. In the US, it’s the fourth Thursday in November.
#3 — 88% of Americans have a turkey on the table over Thanksgiving. Some estimates, state more than 690 million pounds of turkey were consumed for Thanksgiving in 2007.
#4 — Leftover turkey helped invent TV dinners. After all that turkey is raised for our national holiday, what happens if there are leftovers? In 1953, as legend has it, someone at Swanson overestimated the number of turkeys that would be sold — and they ended up with 26 TONS of extra meat. What did they do with all of this? They ended up slicing, freezing, and repackaging the meat with sides and voila: the first TV dinner was born.
#5 — Thanksgiving became a national holiday in 1941, more than 300 years after the first celebration. While the first Thanksgiving might have happened as early as 1621, it took 200 years before President Abraham Lincoln declared the final Thursday as a national day of Thanksgiving — and it took Congress until 1941 to make it an official national holiday.
#6 — Thanksgiving accounts for 20% of the total turkeys consumed every year. According to the National Turkey Federation, approximately 46 million turkeys are consumed in the US over Thanksgiving, and this is only one-fifth of the annual total of turkeys consumed (235 million)!
#7 — Roughly 13% of Americans travel for the holiday — According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), approximately 42.2 million Americans travel 50 miles or more from home over the holiday weekend.
#8 — Black Friday was both a stock market panic and later, the name for the crazy shopping rush the day after Thanksgiving. The first use of the term “Black Friday” referred to Friday, September 24, 1869, when President Ulysses S. Grant released government gold for sale and a speculation attempt caused gold prices to plummet, raising a panic in the stock market. Today, the term refers to the day following Thanksgiving — the kickoff to the holiday shopping season.
#9 — The name for the shopping version of Black Friday was born in Philadelphia in the 1960’s, referring to the heavy pedestrian and vehicular traffic that the first shopping day brought. While it was originally a negative term, it turned positive with its associations with shopping and business growth. In addition to being one of the busiest shopping days of the year, black friday also marks the point in the calendar in which some businesses start to turn a profit — going from “in the red” January through November to finally “in the black” during the holiday rush. In recent years, retailers have opened up as early as 4:00 and 5:00 A.M., and in just the past few years, several stores have started opening up at midnight.
#10 — Cyber Monday started in 2005 as a marketing campaign. Sometimes it pays to invent trends — literally. Cyber Monday refers to the Monday after Thanksgiving in the United States, and the term was created by marketing companies precisely as an incentive to shop.
Today, Cyber Monday has become an international marketing term used by online retailers in 10 different countries — even in countries that don’t traditionally celebrate American Thanksgiving. Note to all our growth hackers out there: maybe if you need a reason for a sale, you can invent a new holiday. It certainly pays to be creative.
In sum, Thanksgiving gave us a national dinner, a new word for guinea fowl (the bird’s original name), two excuses for shopping, and even spurred the invention of a TV dinner.
What’s your favorite Thanksgiving eat? Do you celebrate Thanksgiving? Or do you have another tradition or holiday that you love?
PS: In addition to jumping on the Turkey bandwagon (and for some of us, it’s tofurkey), we’ll also be sharing our own super-duper Cyber Monday: one day sale . We’ll send out the good news this Friday, November 28th!