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.