The Real Thanksgiving

Debunking The Myths About America’s Tastiest Holiday


Debunking The Myths About America’s Tastiest Holiday

In 1988, the miniseries This Is America, Charlie Brown first began to air. Each episode immersed Charlie and his friends into an important event  in American history, educating thousands of young viewers. One episode in particular might sound familiar: “The Mayflower Voyagers”, which depicted the original Thanksgiving and still airs today, following A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. It’s unsurprisingly fraught with errors- there’s only so much that can be expected of a children’s animated special. What is surprising, however, is that those errors pop up just about everywhere when it comes to the story of the first Thanksgiving, even in the history books. So how much of what you know about that infamous Thanksgiving is actually right?


Myth: The pilgrims were escaping religious persecution

Pilgrims- who at the time referred to themselves as Separatists- had already found religious freedom when they arrived in Holland in the beginning of the 17th century, so there was no need to escape non-existent persecution. The Mayflower voyage had much more to do with making money in North America. Moreover, many had the goal to create a religious theocracy wherever they settled, which they did end up achieving in Plymouth. 

Myth: The Native Americans were invited

There’s no evidence that the Native Americans were asked to join the Pilgrims’ harvest celebration, though it is true that they were there. Historians have narrowed the reason down to two options. Most historians believe that members of the nearby Wampanoag tribe attended because the Wampanoag leader was there for diplomatic reasons. The other, more morose possibility? They had heard warning shots fired towards their tribe and came to see what was going on, or even to fight back.

Myth: Turkey and pumpkin pie ran the show

While there was plenty of wild turkey in Plymouth, the feast actually revolved around venison. One of the two first-hand accounts of the event noted that the Wampanoags brought five deer. Pilgrims also wouldn’t have had any butter or wheat to create a pie crust and didn’t have access to an oven for baking.

Myth: It began an American tradition

The 1621 event wasn’t annual: violent conflicts between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans quickly deteriorated relations previously formed, ending any chance at a repeat of the cross-cultural feast.  The first Thanksgiving only got the title in the 1830s, and that title didn’t become official until 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln made it a thank you for some of the North’s Civil War victories, leaving a huge gap between the feast that supposedly started the custom Americans celebrate today.

Myth: It was a joyous occasion

Although it was a harvest celebration, the first Thanksgiving was much more likely to be a sorrowful affair. Half of the original Pilgrims had died by the time autumn of 1621 came around, and the survivors had experienced traumatic hardships. It was much more likely to be a wake focused on remembering the dead, instead of a festive party.