Sash and Malia Obama with Courage, the turkey President Obama “pardoned” in 2009. (By Marvin Joseph – THE WASHINGTON POST)

Here are 10 questions that will test just how much you know about the history of Thanksgiving. Answers, with explanations, are below.

1) True or False. The Pilgrims who sailed to the New World in 1620 on the Mayflower had a smooth Atlantic crossing which they took to be a sign from God that they should settle in the New World.


2) Along with Squanto, a Patuxet Indian, with whom did the Pilgrims dine at Plymouth Colony in 1621, commonly said to be the first Thanksgiving (though earlier such feasts had taken place and it didn’t set a precedent)?

a) Wampanoag Indians   b) Delaware Indians    c)  Nauset Indians   d) Massachuset Indians


3) The one account of that 1621 Thanksgiving dinner written at the time says this was served:

a) venison      b) chicken    c) turkey    d) pie


4) Which food would it have been impossible to have been served at the 1621 feast?

a) pumpkin   b) sweet potatoes  c) cranberries  d) corn


5) True of False. Pilgrims dressed in black and white and worse buckles on their shoes.


6) When was the first official national day of Thanksgiving celebrated?

a) In 1789 under George Washington

b) In 1863 under Abraham Lincoln

c) in 1939 under Franklin D. Roosevelt

d) in 1941 when Congress declared it a holiday


7)  What is the Thanksgiving Classic?

a) holiday meal with turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie

b) The Macy’s day parade on Thanksgiving

c) NFL football games on Thanksgiving


8)  Who led the effort to popularize Thanksgiving in the 19th century?

a) Mary Lincoln, the president’s wife

b) Sara Josepha Hale

c) Mark Twain

d) Washington Irving


9) Why did president Franklin D. Roosevelt move the annual Thanksgiving holiday from the fourth Tuesday of November to the third Thursday of November in 1939?

a) to make it closer to the date of the famous 1621 Thanksgiving feast

b) to make Christmas shopping season longer

c) to help schools that had traditional football games on the fourth Tuesday of November


10) The tradition of the presidential pardon for a turkey was started by:

a) President Lincoln, when his son asked him to save a pet turkey, in 1863

b) President Roosevelt, when he moved Thanksgiving, in 1939

c) President Kennedy, for his young children Caroline and John, in 1962

d) President  George H.W. Bush for no real reason in 1989



1) False. The Mayflower had smooth sailing for the first half of the trip but then encountered some severe storms and strong winds that left the vessel leaky and one of the main beams cracked. The decision was made not to turn back and the rest is history.

2) a.  Wampanoag Indians

3) a. Venison. Edward Winslow wrote about it in a letter dated Dec. 12, 1621, and he mentioned venison and some sort of fowl, though didn’t mention turkey specifically though colonists were accustomed to eating it. Twenty years after the feast William Bradford published his history of Plymouth Plantation and recalled the meal, saying wild turkey was served.

4)  b. sweet potatoes. Potatoes were not known to the Pilgrims or their Indian guests at the time.

5) False. They actually wore colorful clothes, and, apparently, no buckles on their shoes.

6) a. George Washington issued a proclamation during his first year pas president setting aside Thursday, Nov. 26, as “A Day of Publick Thanksgiving and Prayer.” It did not become an annual event.

7) c. The National Football League has had games on Thanksgiving since the creation of the league and they are known as the Thanksgiving Classic. The Detroit Lions have had a game on the holiday since 1934 with a time-out for World War II.

8) b. Sarah Josepha Hale, who was an influential editor at Godey’s Lady’s Book, a popular women’s magazine. In 1827 she started a campaign to make Thanksgiving an annual holiday.  She published recipes for turkey and stuffing and pumpkin pie and started traditions that had nothing to do with the colonists, and asked several presidents to make it a national annual holiday. In 1863, President Lincoln issued his famous Thanksgiving proclamation.

9) b. Retailers asked FDR to change Thanksgiving to help boost the economy. It had been celebrated on the last Thursday of November but in 1939 there were five Thursdays in the month and businessmen were desperate for economic relief. FDR made the change but some states resisted; about half that year celebrated it on the last Thursday of the month and the rest on the fourth Thursday. Two states celebrated both days. A few years later, Congress declared that Thanksgiving would be on the fourth Thursday of November.

10) d. Bush. The tradition actually originated in 1989, when president George H.W. Bush officially pardoned the first one. Earlier presidents had actually spared the life of the turkey but never gave it the “official pardon.” Bush sent the turkey to the unfortunately named Frying Pan Park in Herndon, Va., to live out its life. According to a perhaps apocryphal story, Abraham Lincoln’s 10-year-old son, Tad, supposedly became fond of a turkey given to the family for a holiday feast in 1863. Tad named the turkey Jack and begged his father to save the animal. Lincoln did. The only problem with that as a Thanksgiving story is that Tad’s plea was to save the Christmas turkey!