LAS VEGAS (KLAS) – As you’re shopping for that Thanksgiving Day bird, you might be wondering why turkey? Why do we feast on meleagris gallopavo, the fowl’s scientific name, on the final Thursday in November?
Blame Sarah Josepha Hale, an American author most popular in the 1800s, according to the editors of Britannica.com.
Although Charles Dickens’ 1843 novel “A Christmas Carol” gets lots of credit for turkey as a holiday meal, Hale’s 1827 “Northwood” devotes “an entire chapter to a description of a New England Thanksgiving, with a roasted turkey ‘placed at the head of the table,'” Britannica.com says.
According to the National Turkey Federation, 88% of Americans eat turkey for Thanksgiving, accounting for some 46 million birds as the main dish for the holiday meal.
Hale also made a major push for Thanksgiving as a national holiday, Britannica.com says, in an effort to unite the country as it headed toward a civil war.
Although President George Washington issued a proclamation for a day of “thanks-giving” in 1789, it was President Abraham Lincoln who urged Americans in 1863 to observe the last Thursday in November each year as Thanksgiving day.
As for the first Thanksgiving, believed to be between Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people in 1621, the settlers probably brought fowl, most likely geese or duck, and the natives would have contributed deer, experts say.
As for Sarah Josepha Hale, you might remember her best for her literary contributions during the early to mid 1800s, including her most popular piece, “Mary Had a LIttle Lamb.”