Thanksgiving Day 2017: How a Roast Turkey Became a Staple of the Celebration

REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. President Barack Obama pardons the National Thanksgiving Turkey during the 68th annual presentation of the turkey in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington November 25, 2015.

While American Thanksgiving Day is synonymous to a roast Turkey on the dinner table, historians claim that it was not part of the feast during the holiday's early days.

American Thanksgiving Day dates back to 1621 when Pilgrims and native Americans started holding a three-day feast to celebrate the harvest day. However, it was not until 1863 when the festivities became an official American celebration after then U.S. president Abraham Lincoln declared it as a national holiday.

Despite becoming an official holiday, it was not until the early 1900s when American Thanksgiving Day became a popular celebration across America. Today, there is no denying that it is still one of the most-looked forward to American holidays, thanks to the festive mood that it comes with.

While American Thanksgiving Day is celebrated with grandiose parades in different parts of the country, it is not the holiday that it is known for without a feast on the dinner table. While the prepared special dishes may vary from one household to another, it has become customary for an American Thanksgiving Day feast to include a roast turkey on the table, hence, American Thanksgiving Day is also dubbed as Turkey Day.

However, food historians claim that first American Thanksgiving Day did not really include a roast turkey on the table. While it's true that people back at the time had turkey, as the bird is indigenous to Northern America, the popular meat back then was venison or deer meat. According to University of Minnesota food historian Tracey Deutsch, the introduction of turkey to the list of Thanksgiving Day dishes came with a different purpose. 

"In the early 20th century, things like turkey and cornbread and stuffing were something that was taught to new, who were then immigrants, as a way of Americanizing them," Deutsch told CBS Minnesota last year.

Despite having no connection to the first American Thanksgiving Day, it goes without saying that a roast turkey remains to be an inherent part of the holiday. In fact, according to reports, 45 million turkeys are served throughout America on Thanksgiving Day.