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How Turkey Became Our Thanksgiving Meal

From the first American settlers to arrive in the new world to the latest pop culture the turkey has carved its way into our Thanksgiving tradition. Thanksgiving and the holidays approach us once again and a thought should be given to the approximately 40 million turkeys that the bell tolls for.

The turkey has few rivals as the American symbol of family values and national pride, but how did it edge out the other delicious holiday meal options for the traditional Thanksgiving meal?

The First Thanksgiving

The original Thanksgiving meal was in 1621, and it is not totally clear if the turkey was on the menu. This means that the turkey’s fate as the centerpiece for our yearly tradition was not assured or immediate. While history points to the colonist William Bradford’s diary which noted that wild turkeys were plentiful it does not specifically state that it was served at the first Thanksgiving meal.

A letter from the time states that men went “a-fowling”, which is a broad term for hunting birds, not specifically the turkey. This means that swan, duck, or pheasant could have been the focus of such a hunt.

A Fowl Choice

In 1777 Congress began that tradition of issuing a Thanksgiving proclamation. This is around the same time that our forefathers were deciding on the design of the Great Seal of the U.S., and turkey was on the list of options. The rooster, eagle, dove, and turkey were all under consideration to be included on our Seal. It wasn’t until 5 years later that Congress decided on Charles Thomson’s suggestion of the bald eagle.

However two years after this decision Benjamin Franklin second guessed the decision and wondered if they had made a mistake. He considered the lifestyle and character of the Eagle to be “poor and often very lousy” as the eagle got its living by being predatory. In contrast he considered the turkey’s character to be one of a much more respectable bird, one that was a bird of courage, even if it could be a bit silly and vain.

A Turkey Turning Point

It was Franklin’s praise for the turkey which marked the pivotal moment in the history of the turkey in our society. Due to the turkey’s plentiful supply and being an inexpensive source of mean for a large part of the population it became increasingly popular. Even Harriet Beecher Stowe is quoted in 1869 to have said that turkey and chickens were served with a wide variety of vegetables that were common to the area and climate.

Turkey Time On Broadway

It wasn’t until the 20th century that the turkey jumped from simply being an option to being in the forefront of the American Thanksgiving culture. While the memory of the Broadway hit “Promises, Promises” has just about been forgotten its song and dance number called “Turkey Lurkey Time” has endured in the glee clubs and many a ringtone.

Modern Pop Culture Inclusion

While the turkey already had a solid claim as the primary centerpiece to the Thanksgiving modern entertainment and sitcoms have helped solidify it. Shows like Friends, The Simpsons, and countless others have had Thanksgiving episodes where the Turkey is pivotal to the success of the Thanksgiving meal. The fate of the meal rests on if they get one, if it is cooked right, and if there are mishaps after it is on the table. Clearly the turkey is anchored in menu and symbol to our Thanksgiving meals and doesn’t show signs of fading any time soon.


Giving Turkey Is Easy With Gift Certificates

There isn’t a doubt that turkey is what just about everyone wants on the table for that symbolic meal. It is easy to give the gift of turkey to your friends, family, corporate partners and employees with turkey gift certificates. They are redeemable at all the major grocers and can be ordered with a logo and message from you or your company. If you’d like to know more about how you can be the Thanksgiving hero and put the turkey on the table click here.

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