We can’t think about Thanksgiving without thinking about turkey. But just when turkey become the Thanksgiving Day staple that we know today?
They’re Native to America
When it comes to food sources, you’re probably a big fan of comfort and convenience, and part of the reason for the turkey’s popularity is that it’s a bird native to Northern America. They were first domesticated around Mexico centuries before Europeans set foot on the continent. It wasn’t until the 16th century that settlers brought the big birds northward into what we now know as America.
Part of the necessity of preparing a family dinner for Thanksgiving has enough food for all the guests. Since it’s always about family, that’s always meant making sure there’s enough meat for everyone. Since turkeys are so big and one bird can feed an entire family, it is easier than sacrificing and cooking a dozen chickens.
Chickens are essential for other reasons, most notably their eggs. When you couldn’t head down to the grocery store to get your food for the week, consumers had to keep the long-term in mind. In terms of food production, a dozen chickens can supply eggs on the table long after Thanksgiving. Other big animals were also more valuable alive than as the main course for a single meal. Cows, along with goats, produced milk and milk products like cheese. Pork was ubiquitous, and if you were looking at putting together a particular feast? Well, the everyday ham and bacon just wouldn’t cut it. It seemed that turkeys were only around to eat, and you weren’t going to be missing out on any other products once they were gone.
The actual celebration of Thanksgiving dates back to 1777, when the Continental Congress announced it as an official holiday. It was only during Abraham Lincoln’s presidency term that Thanksgiving was made a nationwide holiday once again. That happened in 1863, and really, the timing was more than ideal. The nation had never undergone such a conflict and division as it did with the Civil War, which was a way to remind everyone of what they had to be grateful for.
Just three years before, just after he was elected, Lincoln had started the tradition with an informal Thanksgiving dinner that starred roast turkey, which was apparently his favorite meal. By 1864, groups across the country had picked up the cause of making sure that soldiers from all over could celebrate Thanksgiving.