When Americans sit down to Thanksgiving dinner today, health-conscious eaters won't be the only ones checking how much they eat.
The government will be watching, too.
Each year, the Census Bureau tabulates dozens of facts related to 20 holidays and other observances, generating statistics on such pressing matters as how much turkey we eat and how many pumpkins are produced.
For example, a typical American eats 13.7 pounds of turkey and 4.7 pounds of sweet potatoes each year; 256 million turkeys are being raised in America this year.
Robert Bernstein, a public affairs specialist at the Census Bureau, has been collecting and disseminating data related to holidays for the past eight years.
For St. Patrick's Day, Bernstein noted that Americans drink an average of 22 gallons of beer a year. For Halloween, he reported that Americans eat an average of 25 pounds of candy a year. And for the Fourth of July, he projected that Americans would consume 150 million hot dogs on the holiday, about one for every two people.
"It's amazing the breadth of information we have," Bernstein said. "We touch on so many aspects of the human condition."
The government collects the data to monitor activities including economic output and Americans' health habits, information used to shape public policies and develop private business strategies.
Bernstein culls the holiday information from a variety of government sources, relying on the Agriculture Department for much of the data about Thanksgiving.
"We try to put out popular, kind of hip information," Bernstein said.
Perhaps, he said, it will give America's 297 million residents something to ponder as they gather today in many of the country's 107 million homes.
-- Associated Press