Posted 11/22/12 by Melisa Noriega in Entertainment

Myths and Facts to Impress Your Family at Thanksgiving Dinner


For all of us who love days whose only purpose is to eat and watch football, Thanksgiving is the shining star of holidays.  As you recover from your imminent food coma this holiday, impress your relatives with your extensive knowledge of Thanksgiving facts and myths.

Myth: Turkey makes you sleepy because it has Tryptophan.

Perhaps the most commonly told fib of Thanksgiving festivities, there’s always one brainiac in the bunch who wants to pull out the big words and talk about Tryptophan. Impress your drunk uncle right back, by telling him that the reason he’s passing out on the couch in front of the game is not due to his heaping serving of turkey, but his excessive consumption of calories, and especially carbohydrates. While turkey does contain Tryptophan, it has approximately the same amount as pork, chicken and beef.

What is Tryptophan?

Tryptophan is an amino acid, one of the building blocks of protein. Humans require all 20 amino acids to produce all the proteins we need to survive, but we get all of our Tryptophan from the food we consume – it is not produced naturally within the body. Tryptophan is one of the building blocks of serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter responsible for promoting sleep in mammals, but eating more turkey has no effect on the amount of serotonin produced in the brain. In fact, turkey has much higher levels of other amino acids, meaning that the amount of Tryptophan you actually absorb from the food is not significant.

So why are you tired after Thanksgiving dinner?

Aside from the fact that your body is likely not designed to eat a 3,000+ calorie meal in one sitting (excluding all of those on the Michael Phelps diet), the pies you chow down on after the turkey dinner may be behind your late afternoon snooze. Carbohydrates trigger the release of insulin from the pancreas, which, when released into the blood stream, allows tissues and muscles to absorb glucose and most amino acids. However, insulin does not promote the absorption of Tryptophan, so as all the other amino acids dissipate into the tissues, Tryptophan becomes one of the dominant amino acids present in the blood stream, allowing it to pass through the blood-brain barrier in higher quantities and be used to build serotonin.


Fact: From 1928 to 1933 the balloons used in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade were released into the air at the climax of the parade.

While it would be awesome to see giant Mickey Mouse roaming free-style around NYC, we can see why it may be slightly unsettling to have this guy peeking into your window a few days past the parade. This practice was promptly ended after a pilot nearly died trying to catch one of these rogue monster balloons.



Myth: Americans have celebrated Thanksgiving annually since the pilgrims sat down to feast with the Native Americans in 1621.

It is true that the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 as a celebration of the colonists’ first successful harvest. However, the next Thanksgiving feast was not for another two years in 1623. This time, the holiday marked the end of a religious fast that was spurred by a severe drought. Religious fasting followed by celebratory feasting became somewhat commonplace in the New England colonies, but was not celebrated on a very large scale.

It was not until 1789 that Americans enjoyed the first nation-wide Thanksgiving holiday, when President George Washington called upon America to celebrate the end of the Revolutionary War and the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Almost thirty years late in 1817, New York became the first state to implement Thanksgiving as an annual holiday. Finally, Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national annually recognized holiday to fall on the final Thursday of November in 1863 amidst the turmoil of the Civil War. Although President Franklin Roosevelt attempted to change the date of Thanksgiving during his presidency, he was met with strong protestation, and ultimately changed it back to the holiday that we all know and love.


Fact: From 1924 to 1926 the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade featured live animals such as lions, bears, camels and elephants.

While the thought of seeing lions strutting down the streets of NYC is definitely exciting, it’s probably a spectacle we’d rather view from the safety of our televisions at home. That way, you can lounge casually in your sweats without running the risk of getting maimed by a lion. It should be no surprise that this tradition was so short-lived.


Fact: The NFL has played on Thanksgiving every year since 1920.

It should be no surprise that the NFL has been a Thanksgiving staple for decades now – after all, what are you supposed to pass out in front of after dinner if there’s no game on? Unless you’re an avid fan, you probably didn’t know that the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars have never played a game on Thanksgiving day, and the Houston Texans will play their first ever turkey day game this year. However, the Detroit Lions have played every Thanksgiving day since 1934, excluding the years when the NFL did not play during WWII. Finally, OJ Simpson takes home the prize for most rushing yards in a single Thanksgiving Day game with 273 in their 1976 game against Detroit. 

No matter what you’re up to this Thanksgiving holiday, revel in the fact that you’re now probably more well-versed in useless Thanksgiving trivia than any of your relatives. Now go eat yourself silly! Happy Thanksgiving!

Melisa Noriega

Melisa Noriega
Hello! My name is Melisa (with one 's') and I'm a Harvard University undergraduate concentrating in biomedical engineering. I hope one day to become a surgeon, so basically to waste away my golden years in medical school. During the summer I work on the MESSENGER Mission to Mercury at the JHU Applied Physics Laboratory, which isn't exactly related to my major, but it's close to home so I get home-cooked meals and my laundry done for me. At school I'm heavily involved in Model United Nations and watching a little too much Grey's Anatomy (dreaming about becoming Christina Yang). Last year I was one of Seventeen Magazine's Freshman 15, so I'm excited to continue blogging!