Back in 1621, a group of hardy Pilgrims sat down for a three-day festival of thanksgiving to celebrate surviving plague, starvation, cold, scurvy, Indian attack, and all the other obstacles that made life in the “new world” so delightful. They feasted on game birds, flint corn, venison, eels, shellfish, and native vegetables including beans, turnips, carrots, onions, and pumpkins. (No butter or flour, though, which meant no pumpkin pie. And aren’t you glad we remember them now for turkey instead of eels?)
242 years later, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the first “official” Thanksgiving – a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our benificent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” Since then, it’s become one of America’s favorite holidays, a four-day weekend of friends and family without the Christmas-season hype.
You know who else loves Thanksgiving? Our friends at the IRS, of course. That’s because they get to stuff themselves with taxes on everything connected with our celebration!
- Sales taxes on turkey and trimmings pile up like calories on your plate. The American Farm Bureau Federation reports that the average 16-pound turkey will cost $21.76 this year. At an average 7.25% combined state and local sales tax, that makes $1.58 in tax for the bird alone. Throw in some potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, Aunt Edna’s special green bean casserole, and the obligatory pumpkin pie, and the taxes alone could feed a hungry diner any other day of the year.
- Sales and excise taxes on beer, wine, and liquor are even higher than on food. Taxes make up 33% of the total cost of a bottle of wine, 44% of the total cost of a case of beer, and even more for the bourbon in Uncle Harry’s old fashioned.
- What Thanksgiving would be complete without traveling over the river and through the woods? Here’s where Uncle Sam really cleans up. Gas taxes average 49.5 cents per gallon. If you’re traveling farther, the taxes on a $376 average plane ticket include a $28.20 federal excise tax, a $3.90 flight segment tax, a $4.50 passenger facility charge, and a $10 “September 11 Security Fee.” (That’s before you pay even more to check your bag, board early to snag space in an overhead bin, or claim an extra three inches of legroom!) The hotel tax on an average $95.61 room runs $13.12. Oh, and if you’re renting a car, plan on another 13.21% tax there. Now you know why the IRS says “cha-ching” when you sing “to Grandmother’s house we go!”
All told, Uncle Sam and his colleagues in state and local tax departments take in $3.6 billion in Thanksgiving taxes. That’s enough to buy 165 million turkeys – enough to feed every man, woman, and child in America, with plenty left over for sandwiches.