Why is turkey synonymous with Thanksgiving?

(Ken Paris/Flickr Commons/CC-BY-ND-2.0)
(Ken Paris/Flickr Commons/CC-BY-ND-2.0)

(MEDIA GENERAL) — So many American Thanksgiving traditions stem – or at least are inspired by – the “First Thanksgiving.” Thanksgiving, in essence then and now, is a day set aside to reflect on the blessings we have received over the year; to delight in the fruits of a successful harvest.

But, oddly enough, turkey likely wasn’t on the menu for the three-day feast between the pilgrims and members of the Wampanoag tribe. There is only one written account of the “First Thanksgiving” and turkey isn’t mentioned. Duck, venison and seafood, however, were enjoyed for that meal.

So how did turkey become so synonymous with Thanksgiving?

It turns out turkey wasn’t always synonymous with the Thanksgiving holiday as much as it was synonymous with the American lifestyle in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Pilgrims already were accustomed to eating turkey because the bird, first domesticated by the Aztecs in Mexico, was brought to Europe in the 16th century. Historians report turkeys were being bred in England as early as 1541 and quickly became a popular dish.

Wild turkeys were common in New England when the settlers came stateside and were a common fixture of the early American diet. Turkey likely became synonymous with Thanksgiving because it was a readily available meal that could feed a large group of people.

Turkeys were also more easily expendable than other choices in the 18th and 19th centuries. Cows and hens were too useful to be sacrificed for a meal — providing milk and eggs — while rooster meat is generally tough and undesirable. Turkeys were often kept around farms to eat bugs and worms and often plumped up to a reasonable size by harvest time – making it an ideal choice for a feast.

WNCT-TV 9 On Your Side provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s