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The All-American Bird: Thanksgiving Turkey

November 20, 2013

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Why do we eat turkey (well, most of us) on Thanksgiving? The Old Farmer’s Almanac for Kids Volume 3 offers a few pieces of history that may answer that question!

The All-American Bird: Thanksgiving Turkey

Nobody is sure if the pilgrims ate turkey at their first Thanksgiving feast in 1621. One account doesn’t mention turkey; another does, but it was written 20 years later. It wasn’t until after 1863, the year when President Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving Day a national holiday, that turkeys began to land on dinner plates across the country.

Every November since 1947, a “National Thanksgiving Turkey” has been presented to the U.S. President. Harry Truman got the first one. During an official ceremony in the Rose Garden, the president “pardons” the turkey, meaning its life is spared and it does not get eaten. 

White meat vs. Dark meat

A turkey’s breast muscles are for flying, but they are seldom used.  There are few blood vessels there, and little oxygen is delivered to them – which is why breast meat is white.

Turkeys run around a lot, so their leg and thigh muscles have many oxygen-carrying blood vessels-which is why leg and thigh meat is dark.

Turkey Nuggets

There are several theories about how turkeys got their name. One story claims that Christopher Colombus heard some birds say, “tuka, tuka,” and his interpreter came up with the name tukki, which means “big bird” in Hebrew.

Folklore: Turkeys perched on trees and refusing to descend indicates snow. 


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