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Playground Equipment Blog
Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Origins and Myths of Thanksgiving

Ahhh, Thanksgiving: togetherness, parades, and tons of turkey (or tofu stuffing). Our team looks forward to celebrating with friends and family each year. But did you know that many of the holiday stories and anecdotes surrounding Thanksgiving are myths? Read on to learn the real origins and traditions of American and Canadian Thanksgiving.

Abraham Lincoln declared it a holiday.

It’s true that the Mayflower brought Pilgrims to North America from Plymouth in 1620. And in 1621, they celebrated a bountiful harvest with a three-day gathering that was attended by the Wampanoag tribe.

But the origin story for the holiday was established retroactively, in the 1830s. At that time, a 19th-century magazine editor, Sarah Josepha Hale, helped to invent the Thanksgiving we still celebrate. After reading about the 1621 feast, Hale began using it as a model for modern Thanksgiving, publishing recipes for turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie in the popular Godey's Lady's Book. She also lobbied Abraham Lincoln to make Thanksgiving an official holiday— and succeeded! According to accounts, Lincoln declared it official in 1863 as a kind of “thank you” to U.S. citizens for their perseverance and bloody Civil War victories, like the battle of Gettysburg. Lincoln recognized that the people needed something positive to celebrate to bring the country together and give the people hope.

It might not be the turkey that’s making you sleepy.

Do you have an uncle who takes a nap after the big meal every year? Well, his drowsiness might have more to do with booze, the overall size of the feast, or even a general feeling of holiday relaxation. Because the level of the organic amino acid, tryptophan, in most Thanksgiving birds isn't responsible for drowsiness. In fact, Many other rich foods—like beef or soybeans—report higher concentrations of the amino acid.

But that isn’t to say you should steer clear. Tryptophan produces other helpful substances, like melatonin, serotonin, and kynurenines. Serotonin affects mood and gives you a boost; melatonin aids in sleep regulation and kynurenines are thought to be immune system regulators. So, eat up. And treat yourself to a nap, regardless of the reason.

Squanto’s whole history was rather bleak.

Tisquantum, known as Squanto, was indeed a significant figure in the establishment of the colonies. He and his people, the Patuxet—a part of the Wampanoag tribe—previously lived on the Pilgrims’ settlement. He generously acted as a translator and diplomatic aid to the New Englanders as they began trading with the indigenous people. And he also taught the Pilgrims the proper way to plant crops and showed them where to fish.

However, that story doesn’t have such happy beginnings. The English captured Squanto 1614 and later sold him into slavery in Spain. At one point, he traveled back to England and learned to speak English. And finally, in 1619, he returned to his homeland, only to find the entire Patuxet tribe had been wiped out by smallpox. He then met the Pilgrims a few years later. So, at the time of the “First Thanksgiving,” his tribe was gone. But he used his skills to help the new settlers.

American and Canadian Thanksgiving fall during different Autumn months.

Canadian Thanksgiving already happened this year; it fell on Monday, October 8th, which was Columbus Day in the United States. American Thanksgiving will be on Thursday, November 22nd. So what’s the reason for the staggered dates? One possibility: because Canada is farther north, harvest comes earlier, which calls for an October celebration instead.

In Canada, Thanksgiving represents a spiritual holiday giving thanks for a bountiful harvest. In the U.S., we claim to celebrate the pilgrims’ feast with indigenous people, even if that’s not the whole story, while Canadians view Thanksgiving as a more culturally-neutral event. But plenty of Canadian historical dates coincide with the holidays. For example, when Canada was colonized, celebrations tended to mark Martin Frobisher’s successful crossing in 1578 or even war victories.

Did you know these surprising Thanksgiving facts?

I’ll have to admit, we were pretty shocked by some of the true origins of Thanksgiving. Perhaps the version we were taught in school doesn’t represent the whole truth? Maybe the positive takeaway is that we don’t need to feel obligated or bound by traditions that don’t suit us. Transform your holiday and fill it with rituals that makes sense to your family. What kinds of traditions do you celebrate? Sound off in the comments section below.

Written by: Parker Jones

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