It’s true that turkey might not have been on the menu for the First Thanksgiving (they wrote of eating “wild fowl”). So why is it the centerpiece of any Thanksgiving dinner? You might want to thank President Lincoln. He’s the one who declared Thanksgiving a national holiday and the humble turkey became the main attraction.
Historically, certain parts of our country had always embraced the idea of giving thanks and celebrating the harvest, but Thanksgiving wasn't observed nationwide until 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln declared it a national holiday. The desire for an official holiday had been growing in popularity since 1856 when the journals of William Bradford, governor of the Plymouth colony, were reprinted after being lost for a century. In his writings Bradford described how the colonists had hunted wild turkeys during the autumn of 1621.
There were other reasons why turkey became the Thanksgiving meal of choice for most Americans. Turkeys are large enough that they could easily feed a table full of hungry family members. Unlike chickens or cows, they weren't used for laying eggs or making milk. Unlike pork, it wasn't too common to be used for a special occasion. Additionally, the publication of Charles Dinkens' A Christmas Carol in 1843 may have helped promote the idea of turkey as a traditional holiday family meal when Ebenezer Scrooge generously sends the Cratchit family a Christmas turkey.