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Thanksgiving by the numbers

From the amount of airline passengers flying home the history of the president pardoning a turkey, use these facts about Turkey Day to entertain your tablemates at dinner this year.

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Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Charles Sykes/AP/File

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Whether you are sympathizing with the animated turkeys in the new movie “Free Birds,” pulling out your recipe for green bean casserole, or waiting for your favorite “Duck Dynasty” stars to appear in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, this American holiday unites like no other. In between courses, or maybe during a break between back-to-back football games, here are a few Thanksgiving facts and numbers to test out on friends and family.

In 2012, 254 million turkeys were raised in the United States, according to the Department of Agriculture. About 46 million will be eaten at Thanksgiving, according to the National Turkey Federation, which estimates that with the average prepared turkey weighing 16 pounds, at least 736 million pounds of turkey will be consumed over the holiday.

About 768 million pounds of cranberries were produced in the US in 2012. (Wisconsin and Massachusetts are the two states that produce the most cranberries.)
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will celebrate its 87th anniversary in 2013. Roughly 3 million people will line the parade route in New York, while 50 million will tune in to NBC to watch at home. This year’s parade will feature 32 balloons and 900 clowns.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, 25.1 million airline passengers are expected to take to the skies.

Three football games will take place Thanksgiving Day: the Green Bay Packers at the Detroit Lions, at 12:30 p.m. EST on FOX; the Oakland Raiders at the Dallas Cowboys at 4:30 p.m. EST on CBS; and the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Baltimore Ravens at 8:30 p.m. EST on NBC. 

According to the National Football League, the Thanksgiving Day football tradition began with the Detroit Lions, who hosted the Chicago Bears in 1934. Except for a gap from 1939 to 1944, the Lions have hosted a Thanksgiving Day game every year. Since 1966, the Dallas Cowboys have missed playing on the holiday only in 1975 and 1977.

For the past 66 years, since 1947, The National Turkey Federation has presented the president of the United States with one live turkey and two dressed turkeys. President Kennedy was the first president to reportedly spare the turkey’s life; President Reagan was the first to grant the turkey a presidential pardon. In 1989, President George H.W. Bush made the turkey pardon an annual tradition.

The Godey’s Lady’s Book editor Sarah Josepha Hale began campaigning in 1846 to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. For 17 years she wrote annually to the president, all state governors, and members of Congress. Abraham Lincoln was finally persuaded and proclaimed the first national Thanksgiving Day in 1863.


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