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Turkey for Thanksgiving – But Why?

What makes the Thanksgiving turkey so special?

By:  |  November 23, 2023  |    408 Words
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(Photo by Lambert/Getty Images)

It’s almost Thanksgiving, and with that knowledge comes thoughts of big family dinners with a golden turkey as the centerpiece. How far back does the tradition of eating turkey for Thanksgiving go? Some say it all started with the Pilgrims, at the First Thanksgiving in 1621. However, there is no direct mention of eating turkeys at that time. Still, the large native bird has become a symbol of holiday meals. For some families, Thanksgiving just wouldn’t be the same without turkey on the table.

So when did turkeys become so popular? There are those who say it started with Charles Dickens’ book A Christmas Carol in 1843. Others give credit to Sarah Josepha Hale, author of Northwood in 1827. She dedicated a whole chapter to describing a New England Thanksgiving meal, mentioning a roasted turkey “placed at the head of the table.”

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A turkey farm (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Why Turkey?

Calling someone a turkey is an old insult – but this comes from the more modern domesticated turkey. Farm-raised turkeys have a reputation for being stupid birds. Wild turkeys are entirely different. Benjamin Franklin even once suggested the turkey should be America’s national bird, although he was probably joking.

As author G.T. Klein said, the American turkey was “wild and wary to the point of genius.” Wild turkeys are brightly plumed and have longer necks and legs than farm-raised birds. They also have smaller chests. Farm turkeys are bred to have larger breasts (for the white meat).

Interesting Facts

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Wild turkeys in Minnesota (Photo by: Bernie Friel/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The character Big Bird from Sesame Street uses nearly 4,000 white turkey feathers for its costume. The feathers are dyed the bright yellow that Big Bird has become famous for.


What sound does a turkey make? If you said “gobble, gobble,” you’d just be partially correct. Only the tom turkeys gobble, the females make a clucking or clicking sound.

Wild turkeys prefer to sleep in trees at night but build their nests on land using dry leaves.

In bowling, three strikes in a row is known as a turkey.

The largest of these birds is the Bronze turkey. Adult males (toms) can weigh up to 50 pounds while females (hens) only weigh up to about 16 pounds.

Test your knowledge with a quiz based on this article!

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