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8 Myths About the First Thanksgiving

First Thanksgiving Myths
Picture of oil painting by Jean Louis Gerome Ferris, 1932. This portrays many of the myths about Thanksgiving
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Thanksgiving is one of the most well-known American holidays because of its historical significance. The story of the pilgrims landing in America in 1621 and sharing a feast with the native tribe is taught in essentially every American elementary school. However, many kids just receive a simplified version of the story, and many media outlets have fed false information to the public about the origin of this holiday.

Here are the top 8 myths about the first Thanksgiving.


Myth #1: The Mayflower was originally supposed to land in Virginia and not Massachusetts

First Pilgrims in massachusettes

This is a myth; however, there is still some truth to it. The pilgrims were supposed to go to the land owned by the Virginia Company. At the time, the company owned much more land than just modern day Virginia. The location the pilgrims intended to sail to was actually by the Hudson River in the modern state of New York. Due to dangerous sailing conditions, the pilgrims instead landed in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.


Myth #2: The pilgrims came to America to gain religious freedom

This is not true at all. While many did sail to the New World to escape religious persecution, the pilgrims from the story of Thanksgiving came from Holland, where religious freedom already existed. They instead came to America in order to make a profit, similar to the settlers that landed in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607.


Myth #3: The male pilgrims wore black and white and had belt buckles

First Thanksgiving attire

This is a misconception created by cartoonists and other artists. Men wore not just black and white but a variety of colors, including brown, beige and dark green. Women dresses were even more colorful, with them being also in blue, gray, violet, and red. Buckles were also not commonly worn among the pilgrims until later in the century.


Myth #4: It was the first harvest celebration

First gathering for Thanksgiving

While the pilgrims and the Native Americans did celebrate a successful harvest with a feast, this was not the first celebration of its kind. Harvest celebrations go back to many centuries before 1621, in both Native American and European societies.


Myth #5: It was a small gathering

Cartoons and T.V. shows tend to show the first Thanksgiving as one with not that many people, maybe 25 at max. However, historical records show that there were about 50 pilgrims and about 90 Native Americans that attended the feast.


Myth #6: The first Thanksgiving feast included turkey

Were Turkeys at the First Thanksgiving?

Even though turkey has for many years been considered the main dish to eat on Thanksgiving, there is no historical records stating that turkey was present at the first Thanksgiving. What historians do know for sure is that the Wampanoag members brought five deer to eat and the pilgrims harvested crops. The serving of deer was a major deal to the pilgrims, for many of them originated from England, where the hunting of deer was illegal.However, historians do not rule out the possibility of turkey and other wild fowl having been there.


Myth #7: The first Thanksgiving was on the Fourth Thursday of November

The first Thanksgiving was actually 3 days long and took place anywhere from September to early November. There is no evidence showing a chance that the feast took place in late November. In 1789, President George Washington declared November 26th to be Thanksgiving Day. However, Thanksgiving did not become an actual national holiday until 1863 under Abraham Lincoln. He assigned it to be on the last Thursday of November. Lincoln made Thanksgiving official during the civil war in order to convey a message of unity. Just like how the Native Americans and pilgrims had come together for celebration, the north and the south of the U.S. should put their differences aside to become a whole union again. In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt assigned Thanksgiving to be the fourth Thursday of November. This, however, was not approved by Congress until 1941. Since then, we continue to celebrate thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November.


Myth #8: Thanksgiving is only celebrated in America

Thanksgiving in America

Canada, Germany, Japan, China, and South Korea all have their own versions of Thanksgiving Day as well. The most similar to the American version is the Canadian one, which is on the second Monday of every October. In Japan, the holiday is more focused on celebrating the rights of workers. In Germany, the holiday is celebrated with fireworks, parades and dancing.





First Thanksgiving Myths