In 1953, someone at Swanson severely overestimated the amount of turkey Americans would consume that Thanksgiving. With 260 tons of frozen birds to get rid of, a company salesman named Gerry Thomas ordered 5,000 aluminum trays, recruited an assembly line of women armed with spatulas and ice-cream scoops and began creating mini-feasts of turkey, corn-bread dressing, peas and sweet potatoes — creating the first-ever TV dinner. Thomas later said he got the idea from neatly packaged airplane food.
Thanksgiving is ruled by two very powerful f-words: "food" and "football". Nearly as old as the sport itself, the tradition of watching football on Thanksgiving began in 1876, when the newly formed American Intercollegiate Football Association held its first championship game. Less than a decade later, more than 5,000 club, college and high school football teams held games on Thanksgiving, with match-ups between Princeton and Yale drawing more than 40,000 fans out from their dining rooms.
1934 marked the first NFL game held on Thanksgiving when the Detroit Lions took on the Chicago Bears. The Lions have played on Thanksgiving ever since — except, of course, when the team was called away to serve during World War II.
The annual White House tradition of pardoning a turkey before Thanksgiving began in 1947, when President Harry Truman took pity on one lucky fowl. Other historians say the practice began during the 1860s, when Abraham Lincoln granted a pardon to a pet turkey belonging to his son, Tad. The tradition may alleviate some of America's guilt, but it doesn't stop them from slaughtering more than 46 million turkeys for the holiday. Even so, as Alaska Governor Sarah Palin proved during an interview in her hometown, Americans prefer public acts of mercy to massacres.
Thanks to the culinary genius of Louisiana (or Wyoming or South Carolina — each region has staked its claim), more and more Americans are forsaking Butterballs for Turduckens. A what? Picture this: a turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken. It's like a Russian nesting doll only with poultry. One store in Louisiania claims to ship more than 5,000 turduckens the week before the feast. Though this may seem like sacrilege to some, the original Thanksgiving meal featured fish, oysters, eel and lobster as well as wild turkey. Other modern pilgrims settle for a tofu version ("tofurkey") or the wildly dangerous "deep-fried turkey".
Three towns have been named after the holiday's starring player — Turkey, Texas, Turkey Creek, L.A. and Turkey, N.C — each with less than 500 residents. Legend has it that the pheasant's name came from the wayward traveler Christopher Columbus, who thought he was in India when he arrived in "The New World" and, hence, dubbed the pheasant a "tuka," an Indian term for peacock. The name stuck.