This is a post I wrote a few years back for NJ.com titled ” Thanksgiving Myth vs. Fact“. I thought it would be fun to re-post it today with pictures from a trip my family and I took to Plymouth MA a few years back..
Hope you enjoy it even though it isn’t a “bookish” post.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday for many reasons. It’s none secular (which means everybody celebrates it), it’s not commercialized, the food is good and the idea behind the holiday is fantastic. We all learned about this holiday at school, and if we didn’t I’m sure after a year or two in America you learned all you think you should. A few weeks ago I took my family to Plymouth, MA for a long weekend, a great trip if you’ve never been. I bought my 4 year old daughter a book about the Mayflower so she’ll know what she’ll be looking at (and hopefully get her a bit excited) and learned a few things myself.
Myth: The first Thanksgiving was a religious based occasion
Fact: The first Thanksgiving was a three day festival which included drinking, gambling and sports. If it was a religious observation the Indians wouldn’t have been invited. The days the pilgrims called “Thanksgiving” were spent praying, not playing and they were several of them in a year (for example, being thankful for a bountiful harvest or winning a battle).
Myth: The pilgrims celebrated the holiday every year
Fact: there is simply no truth to that, the feast wasn’t repeated so it wasn’t the “start” of anything.
Myth: The holiday took place in November.
Fact: We don’t actually know when the feast was held but historians place it some time between late September and the middle of October – after the harvest had been brought in. By November, said historian Richard Erhlich, “the villagers were working to prepare for winter, salting and drying meat and making their houses as wind resistant as possible.”
Myth: The Pilgrims wore large hats with buckles on them.
Fact: First, the term Pilgrims came in much later, those who lived in Plymoth didn’t define themselves as such. The way we invision them, black clothes and big buckles is nothing like they actually dressed. They had colorful cloth, no buckles or tall hats. The 19th-century artists who painted them that way did so because they associated black clothing and buckles with being old-fashioned.
Myth: They served turkey at the first Thanksgiving.
Fact: Deer was the meat of choice as Pilgrim Edward Winslow wrote, “For three days we entertained and feasted, and [the Indian] went out and killd five deer, which they brought to the plantation.” Winslow does mention that four Pilgrims went “fowling” or bird hunting, one of the birds caught could have been a turkey, but it would have been a side dish.
If you are a fan of movies as I am, you remember all the old “Robin Hood” type movies which took place in England where it was a capital crime to hunt the king’s deer – well here they could have all the deer they want and more. The colonists mentioned deer over and over again in their letters back home.
They may have also eaten sea food such as cod, oysters and clams, berries and drank beer (made from corn). However, since they didn’t have flour mills or cattle there was no bread (other then corn bread) or beef and certainly no pies.
Myth: The Pilgrims Landed on Plymouth Rock
Fact: Historian George Willison, who devoted his life to the subject, says the story about the rock is simply made up to attract attention.
What Willison found out is that the Plymouth Rock legend rests entirely on the dubious testimony of Thomas Faunce, a ninety-five year old man, who told the story more than a century after the Mayflower landed. Willison’s book came out at the end of World War II and Americans had more on their minds than Pilgrims then. So we’ve all just gone merrily along repeating the same old story as if it’s true, like George Washington’s wooden teeth, when it’s not.And anyway, the Pilgrims didn’t land in Plymouth first. They first made landfall at Provincetown.
Plymouth Rock also holds the dubious title of “stupidest tourist attraction I ever took my family to see“.
Myth: Pilgrims Lived in Log Cabins
Fact: if you take a look at the picture I took at the Plymoth Plantation you’ll notice that the walls are made of sawed lumber (that’s my son admiring the handiwork).
Happy Thanksgiving to all – and thanks for reading .
Zohar – Man of la Book