Thanksgiving is a time-honored tradition, as American as apple pie and football (the pig-skin variety). But do you know what really happened that first Thanksgiving? Is there truth to the notion that turkey causes drowsiness? And why are Pilgrims always wearing those funny buckled hats when buckles didn't come into fashion until much later? Here, we address some of the most widespread folklore surrounding this cherished holiday - with some myths as old and beloved as Thanksgiving itself.
Myth #1: Turkey was served at the first Thanksgiving.
The truth is – not necessarily. The only foods known to have been served were deer, corn, cod, and bass. Our knowledge of what was served is based on a single written account: William Bradford’s description in his book, On Plymouth Plantation. In the book, Bradford writes that four men were sent to hunt “fowl” – which could have referred to any number of birds, including geese or ducks. In fact, because waterfowl was plentiful in the area, the more likely scenario is that duck was the main course.
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is widely credited for popularizing turkey served at Thanksgiving dinner.
Myth #2: The first Thanksgiving took place on the 4th Thursday of November.
We actually don’t know the precise date of the first Thanksgiving. We do know that it took place sometime between September 21st and November 11th in 1621 as a celebration of the harvest. The original feast was three days long!
It was not until President Roosevelt formally established the holiday in 1939 that the 4th Thursday of November officially became Thanksgiving.
Myth #3 The Pilgrim Thanksgiving was the first Thanksgiving.
This myth is particularly disillusioning for those of us who grew up on the heart-warming tale of the Pilgrims and Native Americans breaking bread together.
In fact, it was a common tradition amongst Native Americans and Europeans to celebrate a bountiful harvest season or deliverance from drought with a feast of thanksgiving. There are records of feasts occurring prior to the Plymouth celebration by French colonists in Florida and English colonists in Maine and Jamestown.
Myth #4: Pilgrims only wore black and white and had buckles on their hats and shoes.
For anyone familiar with most modern-day depictions, Pilgrims are typically shown in monochromatic colors, usually with a buckled hat and shoes. Artist depictions of Pilgrims relied on the fashion in England at the time, but were not representative of the Pilgrims who landed in Plymouth. In fact, black and white were considered formal-wear, and buckles did not become fashionable until later in the 17th century. Our knowledge of what they did wear comes from inventory taken of their belongings when a Pilgrim died: many wills include descriptions of brightly colored breeches, red hats, and even violet petticoats!
Myth #5: Thanksgiving turkey is sleep-inducing.
Contrary to popular belief, the turkey is probably not the source of your post-Thanksgiving stupor. While it does contain tryptophan, an amino acid that causes drowsiness, the effects are only felt on an empty stomach. No folks, that sleepiness is the result of a good, old-fashioned food coma.