15 Thanksgiving Myths That Need to End
You may think you know the story of how the Pilgrims and Native Americans came together in 1621 for the “first” Thanksgiving, but this tale has become shrouded in misinformation during the past few centuries! Here are 15 Thanksgiving myths that need to end.
“The Pilgrims held the first Thanksgiving.”
To all of our surprise, the Pilgrims' celebration in 1621 was actually not the first Thanksgiving in America. Texans claim that the first Thanksgiving actually took place in San Elizario, Texas in 1598, 23 years before the Pilgrims' Thanksgiving.
It is said that Spanish explorer Juan de Onate held the celebration after successfully guiding his soldiers on an almost 400-mile journey across the Mexican desert.
“The Native Americans were invited to the festivities.”
It’s nice to think that the Pilgrims and Native Americans were friends, but in reality, they merely coexisted. Stories about the “first” Thanksgiving say the Pilgrims invited the Native Americans to celebrate with them, but that might not be the case.
Historians suggest it is more likely that the Native Americans heard the noise of the festival and came to investigate what was happening. The Pilgrims did not turn them away, but it is important to note that they did not invite their native neighbors in the first place.
“Thanksgiving has always been about family.”
Most people associate Thanksgiving with family time today, but it hasn’t always been that way. Thanksgiving was actually more about community than family back in the 1600s, which is why all the Pilgrims came together to celebrate instead of only gathering with their individual families.
Imagine meeting with your entire neighborhood! Also, if it had been regarded a family holiday back then, it's likely they would not have allowed the Native Americans to participate.
“Thanksgiving has always been at the end of November.”
The Canadians are correct in celebrating Thanksgiving in mid-October, because it is highly likely that the Pilgrims celebrated Thanksgiving sometime between September and early November. The last Thursday in November would have been far too late in the season for them to celebrate.
One theory as to why we celebrate Thanksgiving in November is that that date is around when the Mayflower landed in America. Thanksgiving did not specifically take place on the fourth Thursday of November until Franklin Roosevelt set the date in 1939.
“Early Europeans treated Native Americans as equals.”
As children, many of us were told a romanticized version of how Squanto, one of the Native Americans, befriended the Pilgrims and taught them how to grow corn and other vegetables. In reality, before he'd met the Pilgrims, Squanto was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Spain.
When he made his way back to America, he discovered that everyone else in his tribe was either killed or died of disease. Not quite as heartwarming, is it?
“Thanksgiving has been celebrated since 1621.”
The Pilgrims' Thanksgiving was not the start of a yearly tradition, as most people believe.
This holiday was actually not celebrated again until more than 200 years later in 1827. Thanksgiving was not even a national holiday until Abraham Lincoln declared it so in 1863.
“Thanksgiving was about religion.”
Today, many people give thanks to the deity of their choice on Thanksgiving, but the Pilgrims did not regard Thanksgiving as a religious-based holiday.
It was a festival to celebrate the harvest season. On their religious holidays, the Pilgrims celebrated by spending the entire day praying, not eating feasts and playing games.
“The Pilgrims ate a traditional Thanksgiving meal.”
Our modern-day Thanksgiving celebrations are full of delicious foods–turkey, stuffing, pie, and more. And we eat them because that’s what the Pilgrims ate, right? Wrong!
We actually don’t know much about what the Pilgrims ate at their first Thanksgiving. The only dish we can confirm is deer, which, these days, is not much of a Thanksgiving staple.
“The Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock.”
Despite what the locals of Plymouth tell tourists, Plymouth Rock wasn’t the original landing place for the Pilgrims. That distinction goes to Provincetown. So how did the myth of Plymouth rock begin?
It appears it began with Thomas Faunce, who arrived in America shortly after the Pilgrims. Decades after the landing of the Mayflower, Faunce said they first set foot on land at Plymouth Rock, and no one seemed to question his story.
“The first Thanksgiving was a big deal.”
Most of American life comes to a halt on Thanksgiving day. In short, our modern-day Thanksgiving celebrations are a big deal. But that’s not how this holiday got started.
In all likelihood, the Pilgrims didn’t realize they were starting a national tradition when they sat down to eat in 1621. Rather, they were simply celebrating the fall harvest–which has been a common occurrence throughout most of history.
“The Pilgrims started the Thanksgiving tradition.”
The Pilgrims might have had the “first” (although that’s debatable) Thanksgiving, but the tradition of celebration took more than a century to really take off.
While George Washington declared a day of thanksgiving in 1789, that only applied for the one year. It was actually President Lincoln who started the annual observance of Thanksgiving.
“The Pilgrims were called ‘Pilgrims'.”
We know them as Pilgrims today, but that isn’t always what the voyagers on the Mayflower were called.
Religiously, the Pilgrims who made their way to America were Brownists or Puritans and didn’t have an official title for themselves. In passing, one writer referred to them as pilgrims, but that title as a proper name wouldn’t become standard until the 1800s.
“The first Thanksgiving was a solemn affair.”
We may think of the Pilgrims as somber and straight-laced, but that’s not the entire story.
While some Pilgrims were highly religious, their first Thanksgiving celebration was a big, exciting to do–including games, gambling, and plenty of alcohol.
“The Pilgrims wore all black and buckled hats.”
While those heavy, black jackets and buckled hats may look dashing, there’s a good chance that Pilgrims wore no such clothing–despite the fact that is how Pilgrims are almost unanimously depicted.
The origin of this fashion myth can be traced back to the 1800s, when the idea of Pilgrims began to take shape in American consciousness. At the time, this buckled-hat getup was generally associated with “old timey” stuff, and so Americans began to associate them with these “old timey” people.
“The presidential pardon of a turkey began with Lincoln.”
The pardoning of a turkey is now a yearly tradition with American presidents. But how did this funny act get its start?
While there are tales of Abraham Lincoln pardoning a turkey at his young son’s request, this story can’t be verified. The first documented turkey pardoning took place in 1989 with then-president George H.W. Bush.