My blog posts are usually about serious matters. I write about nonprofit management issues, fundraising techniques, and government policies impacting the nonprofit sector among other topics. This time around, I thought we could step back and have a little fun this Thanksgiving season.
Myth 1: The Pilgrims Held the First Thanksgiving in 1621
While the Pilgrims did hold a Thanksgiving in 1621, it was definitely not the first such celebration on what would eventually become U.S. soil. Berkeley Plantation on the James River in Virginia claims to be the home of the first official Thanksgiving which was held in 1619. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy even recognized the Plantation’s claim.
However, there are several even older claims to the first Thanksgiving: In 1610, colonists in Jamestown, Virginia celebrated a Thanksgiving when a ship arrived full of food. In 1607, English colonists and Abnaki Indians observed a Thanksgiving at Maine’s Kennebec River. In 1598, San Elizario, a small community near present-day El Paso, Texas, held a Thanksgiving celebration. In 1565, the Spanish held a day of Thanksgiving in what is now Saint Augustine, Florida. In 1564, a Thanksgiving was held by French Huguenot colonists in present-day Jacksonville, Florida. In 1541, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado and his troops celebrated a Thanksgiving in what is now the Texas panhandle.
Myth 2: Thanksgiving has Always Been in November
While Thanksgiving is celebrated in the U.S. on the fourth Thursday of November, this has not always been the case. In fact, Thanksgiving hasn’t even been annually celebrated. While the Pilgrims marked Thanksgiving in the autumn of 1621 — there’s no record of the month — they did not do so again until 1623 and then it was a summer event.
The first Berkeley Plantation Thanksgiving was held on December 4. The San Elizario Thanksgiving wasn’t even held in the autumn or early winter; it was celebrated on April 30. The Saint Augustine Thanksgiving was held on September 8.
As for our modern Thanksgiving celebrations, the holiday was marked on different dates by the states until 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln declared the final Thursday of November to be a national day of Thanksgiving. It wasn’t until 1941 that the date was permanently established as the fourth Thursday of November.
Myth 3: Thanksgiving was a Harvest Celebration
Well, it depends on which Thanksgiving you’re talking about. While the first Pilgrim Thanksgiving was a celebration of the harvest, the Berkeley Plantation Thanksgiving marked the anniversary of the establishment of the colony. The Jamestown Thanksgiving marked the arrival of a ship full of food desperately needed by the starving colonists. The original San Elizario Thanksgiving celebrated the arrival of Spanish explorer Juan de Onate and his followers on the banks of the Rio Grande.
Myth 4: Thanksgiving was Always Celebrated with a Feast
Nope. William Bradford, Governor of Plymouth Colony, called for Thanksgiving to be celebrated in 1623 with a fast.
Myth 5: Thanksgiving was Historically a Religious Holiday
If the Pilgrim Thanksgiving was a religious event, it’s very doubtful that the Pilgrims would have invited the Native Americans. Besides, Pilgrims tended to mark religious events with somber observance rather than festivities. While the Pilgrim Thanksgiving was likely not a religious event, the San Elizario Thanksgiving did include a Catholic mass. For the Thanksgiving feast, the Spaniards were later joined by Native Americans.
Myth 6: Thanksgiving was Always About Family
In all of the earliest Thanksgivings, the occasion was a communal rather than family event. Think of it more as a block party rather than family dinner. By the way, the first Pilgrim Thanksgiving was an event lasting almost a week. It was a multi-cultural, communal affair with both Native Americans and Pilgrims attending.
Myth 7: Turkey was Served at the First Thanksgiving
We don’t really know what foods were served at the earliest Thanksgivings. As for the Pilgrim Thanksgiving, we do know that fowl and deer were served, but we don’t know any more than that. The Norman Rockwell image of Thanksgiving with the big turkey and cranberry sauce is really an invention of the Victorian era when Thanksgiving was first made a national holiday.
Now that we’ve debunked seven Thanksgiving myths, let’s take a look at some holiday trivia courtesy of a 2010 article by Brian Handwerk of National Geographic News:
- 242 million turkeys were raised in the U.S. for slaughter.
- The turkey industry is worth nearly $4 billion annually.
- About 46 million turkeys ended up on U.S. dinner tables last Thanksgiving, that’s about 736 million pounds of turkey meat
- Minnesota is the top turkey-producing state, followed by North Carolina, Arkansas, Missouri, Indiana, and Virginia.
- These six states produce two of every three U.S.-raised birds.
- U.S. farmers produced about 735 million pounds of cranberries. The top producers are Wisconsin and Massachusetts.
- The U.S. grows about 1.9 billion pounds of sweet potatoes, with big producing states being North Carolina, California, and Louisiana.
- Pumpkins are also a big crop with about 931 million pounds produced. Illinois, California, and Ohio grow the most U.S. pumpkins.
- Harry S. Truman was the first U.S. President to “pardon” a turkey.
So, now that you’ve read a lot about Thanksgiving and the traditional foods of the holiday, would you like to add a taste of Wampanoag Indian or Pilgrim cuisine to your dinner table? If so, you’ll want to check-out the recipes offered at the Plimoth Plantation website.
Finally, I hope that you and yours have (or had) a joyous Thanksgiving. At this holiday time, I’m thankful for a great many things. One of the things I’m thankful for is having you as a reader. I very much appreciate your interest in my blog. Thank you for taking the time to visit. And, thank you for everything you do to make the world a better place.
That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?