Many Americans widely regard Thanksgiving as the best holiday for food, family, and football. But do students really know what they’re celebrating? When asked several questions about Thanksgiving, eleven Garnet Valley High School students shared their answers, ranging from partially correct to completely false. When asked why we celebrate Thanksgiving, one survey participant stated, “To keep up the tradition of being thankful for what we have at the end of the harvest”, and another wrote, “To celebrate getting this country.” The majority of survey participants somewhat understand what the holiday is about, along, however, with a few common misconceptions.
Myth: Thanksgiving is only celebrated in America.
While the origins of Thanksgiving do trace back to early America, Thanksgiving is a tradition observed in Canada, Liberia, Saint Lucia, and Grenada. Other areas of the world also have their own version of giving thanks for the harvest, such As South Korea (Chuseok-추석), Germany (Erntedankfest), and Japan ((勤労感謝の日 Kinrō Kansha no Hi).
Myth: Thanksgiving started in the 1400’s.
The first Thanksgiving in America was recorded to have taken place in November of 1621 and was a harvest festival that lasted for three days. However, many Americans believe that since Christopher Columbus first sailed to the Bahamas in 1492, the tradition of Thanksgiving traces back to earlier years when Europeans and Native Americans became in close contact with one another. While Christopher Columbus and Native Americans constantly interacted, Thanksgiving was a feat celebrated more than one hundred years after his experiences in the Caribbean.
Myth: Turkey was eaten at the first Thanksgiving.
While there was no recorded menu for the first Thanksgiving, historians have suggested that the first Thanksgiving meal consisted of venison, squash, corn, succotash, and pumpkin. Contrary to popular belief, potatoes were not served at the first Thanksgiving. While potatoes may have been introduced to Europeans by the Spanish in 1570, they didn’t catch on quick enough to get circulated into the typical European diet by the time the Pilgrims boarded the Mayflower in September of 1620.
All of this begs an intriguing question: why do so many people believe these myths if they aren’t true? As an explanation, Thanksgiving was only truly declared an official United States holiday in 1863 at the height of the Civil War, and the tradition gained more popularity after it was moved to the first Thursday in November by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Clearly, this was in an effort to raise sales during the Great Depression, but the message of Thanksgiving, revolving around acts of gratitude and sharing memories with others, is still present. While Thanksgiving might not be everyone’s favorite holiday or at the same level as Christmas and other widely celebrated traditions, it does no harm to learn more about it and gain a greater insight into American history and culture.