A 1922 Saturday Evening Post cover by renowned illustrator J.C Leyendecker (via gregnewbold.blogspot.com)

A 1922 Saturday Evening Post cover by renowned illustrator J.C Leyendecker (via gregnewbold.blogspot.com)

It’s Thanksgiving today in the United States, so we thought it would be a great time to debunk what you thought you knew about this national holiday that pretends to be about giving thanks. #cueominousmusic

Contrary to popular belief, turkey will NOT make you sleepy.

Doris Lee, "Thanksgiving" (c.1935) (via Art Institute of Chicago)

Doris Lee, “Thanksgiving” (c.1935) (via Art Institute of Chicago)

According to the Pew Research Center, turkeys are getting bigger, and most are from the states of Minnesota and North Carolina. The US is also exporting more turkeys than ever, and Mexico is by far the biggest market for US turkey (412.7 million pounds in 2012), followed by Canada (31.2 million pounds) and Hong Kong (26.6 million pounds).


Every wonder if there’s a connection between turkey, the bird, and Turkey, the country? The New York Times published an op-ed that explains:

It’s not a coincidence. It’s not that the two words just sound alike. Turkeys are named after Turkey. But there is a connection. You just have to go to Madagascar to find it. Let me explain.

Once upon a time, English mealtimes were miserable things. There were no potatoes, no cigars and definitely no turkey. Then people began to import a strange, exotic bird. Its scientific name was Numida meleagris; its normal name now is the helmeted guinea fowl, because it’s got this weird bony protuberance on its forehead that looks a bit like a helmet. It came all the way from Madagascar, off the southeast coast of Africa, but the English didn’t know that. All the English knew was that it was delicious, and that it was imported to Europe by merchants from Turkey. They were the Turkey merchants, and so, soon enough, the bird just got called the turkey.

Jennie A. Brownscombe, "Thanksgiving in Plymouth" (1914), Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth (via lakenhal.nl)

Jennie A. Brownscombe, “Thanksgiving in Plymouth” (1914), Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth (via lakenhal.nl)

According to the Library of Congress, the “first American Thanksgiving” was celebrated in May 1541 by Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, who led 1,500 men in a thanksgiving celebration at the Palo Duro Canyon:

Coronado’s expedition traveled north from Mexico City in 1540 in search of gold. The group camped alongside the canyon, in the modern-day Texas Panhandle, for two weeks in the spring of 1541. The Texas Society Daughters of the American Colonists commemorated the event as the “first Thanksgiving” in 1959.

In 1564, French Huguenot colonists celebrated thanksgiving in Jacksonville, Florida, followed by celebrations in Maine (1607), Virginia (1610). Finally, the most famous Thanksgiving celebration, in the Plymouth Colony, took place in October 1621:

The celebration included athletic contests, a military review led by Miles Standish, and a feast on foods such as wild turkeys, duck, geese, venison, lobsters, clams, bass, corn, green vegetables, and dried fruits. In 1841, Dr. Alexander Young contended that this harvest celebration was the “first Thanksgiving,” and the origin of an American tradition. This interpretation gained such widespread acceptance that other contenders for the distinction faded into obscurity.

According to Salon, pumpkin pie didn’t grace the table at the “first Thanksgiving”:

Native Americans ate pumpkin dried, stewed, baked, and roasted. In the Great Lakes area, tribal cooks roasted pumpkins stuffed with wild rice, rendered fat, venison, and buffalo. In New England, colonists took a cue from the locals and figured out ways to sneak the hardy squash into every meal of the day: settlers consumed pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin flower blossom sandwiches, pumpkin cornbread, pumpkin soups, and, inevitably, pumpkin beer. A pumpkin pie recipe appears in the 1796 edition of “American Cookery,” though in the early days settlers were more likely to bake a whole pumpkin, hollowed and filled with sweetened milk and spices.

Though you can find some classic Thanksgiving recipes from this compilation of historic cookbooks, including a pumpkin pie recipe from 1671. And there are more historic recipes here.

Did you know that the original written source for the Plymouth Thanksgiving was actually stolen from the US in the 18th century and ended up in Canada and then Britain:

After the siege of Boston, when the British occupied downtown, troops ransacked the Old South Church (and turned it into a riding school, of all things) and found Bradford’s Plymouth Plantation lodged in the steeple. One (or several  –who knows?) soldier took it as a spoil of war, and it made its way to Canada and later to Great Britain where it somehow (again — who knows?) found  its way into the Library of Fulham Palace, the official residence of the Bishop of London.  There it was used and referenced by several British historians of early America, bringing it to the attention of American scholars — who had apparently forgot all about it?

It was only returned to the US in 1897.

(via HuffPo)

(via HuffPo)

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

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