8 Things You Always Believed About Thanksgiving That Aren't True

From the day it's celebrated to the food that's served, these Thanksgiving misconceptions need to go.

family sitting around a table and eating and drinking for thanksgiving meal

Every November, families across America gather around the dinner table to celebrate Thanksgiving, with a meal inspired by the first feast between the pilgrims and Native Americans that took place all the way back in 1621. In the nearly 400 years since then, plenty of Thanksgiving misconceptions have developed, and many are still widely circulated today. To help you avoid spreading one of these all-too-common myths at Thanksgiving this year, we've rounded up all the things people get wrong about the fall holiday.

The first Thanksgiving took place on the fourth Thursday of November.

American thanksgiving dinner spread

The pilgrims celebrated Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November, so we celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November—it just makes sense, right? Wrong. While we don't know the exact date of the first Thanksgiving, most historians agree that it most likely occurred somewhere between September 21 and November 9. So, nowhere near the fourth Thursday of November.

Americans have been celebrating Thanksgiving every year since 1621.

Thanksgiving Dinner Dealing with Holiday Stress

Since we celebrate Thanksgiving annually, it's natural to assume we've been gathering for a ritual feast every year since 1621. However, that's not actually the case. In fact, the first time Thanksgiving was made an official holiday was in 1789, but President George Washington only observed it as one for that year.

It wasn't until 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation making the last Thursday of November a national holiday. Then, in 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt officially moved it to the the third Thursday of November. It wasn't until 1941 that it was officially established as a United States federal holiday to be celebrated every year on the fourth Thursday in November, like we know it to be today.

The pilgrims ate turkey at the first Thanksgiving, which is why we do now.

a family making turkey for their thanksgiving dinner

If you think the pilgrims were serving up roast turkey and stuffing at their Thanksgiving feast in 1621, you would be sadly mistaken. While historians do agree that wild turkey was a common meal at the time, it's not specifically mentioned in Edward Winslow's eyewitness account of the first Thanksgiving dinner. However, he did recall large amounts of "fowl" and deer brought by the Native Americans.

In fact, it's widely recognized that turkey wasn't officially associated with the holiday until the late 1800s. That's when Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor for American women's magazine Godey's Lady's Book, came across Winslow's account and published recipes for her modern take on the feast, which included turkey.

The first Thanksgiving dinner was a one-day affair.

couple at dinner things burglars know about your home

While you may picture the pilgrims and Native Americans meeting up for one joint meal, the first Thanksgiving feast wasn't actually a one-day event. It was, well, an entire feast. In fact, according to Winslow's firsthand account, the celebration was actually around three days long. However, that doesn't mean you need to let your relatives stick around for three days after dinner this year.

Native Americans were invited to the feast.

the first thanksgiving feast illustration

Look, there's no debate on whether or not Native Americans were in attendance for the first Thanksgiving feast. But while many of us recall learning in school that they were graciously invited to the feast by pilgrims, there's actually no official account that says they were asked to join. According to Indian Country Today, many historians say that the Native Americans happened upon the feast and were, in turn, greeted by the pilgrims.

"Most historians believe what happened was Massasoit (the Pokanoket Wampanoag leader) got word that there was a tremendous amount of gun fire coming from the Pilgrim village," said Tim Turner, a member of the Cherokee Nation and manager of Plimoth Plantation's Wampanoag Homesite. "So he thought they were being attacked and he was going to bear aid." When his tribe showed up, they were allowed to join the pilgrims and Massasoit sent his men out to bring deer back as a contribution to the feast.

Thanksgiving started as a family-oriented celebration.

family at thanksgiving dinner - holiday stress

These days, we love using Thanksgiving as a way to gather with our loved ones. But although it's commonly seen as a "family holiday," Thanksgiving didn't start that way at all. In fact, when the first Thanksgiving occurred, it was a mostly male-attended event, as there were actually only four women left in Plymouth (most had perished soon after the long Mayflower voyage). So, it wasn't really a family affair.

The pilgrims wore black and white clothing with buckles on everything.

kid dressed in a pilgrim costume

Based on the various "first feast" illustrations we saw throughout our school textbooks growing up, one would assume the pilgrims wore all black and white with buckle accessories on practically everything. However, buckles weren't actually commonplace in fashion until later in the 17th century. And according to Simon Worrall with Smithsonian Magazine, pilgrims actually wore "earth tones" like "green, brown, and russet corduroy," which were common for the English countryside at the time.

Only Americans celebrate Thanksgiving.

Christopher Kimball Thanksgiving

While our annual Thanksgiving celebrations are based off the original 1621 feast that occurred in America, the U.S. is actually not the only country that celebrates "Thanksgiving." According to the experts over at the History Channel, other countries that celebrate Thanksgiving include Canada, Germany, Liberia, Japan, and the Netherlands. However, their celebration origins differ from our own. For instance, Canada celebrates a Thanksgiving based off the 1578 expedition led by Arthur Frobisher, a British navigator who held a feast for his crew as a way to give thanks for the safety of their voyage.

Kali Coleman
Kali is an assistant editor at Best Life. Read more
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