17 Thanksgiving Myths, Debunked

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kellykellykelly/iStock via Getty Images Plus

What better way to start conversation during Thanksgiving dinner than by debunking some of these common Turkey Day myths?

1. Myth: Abraham Lincoln pardoned a Thanksgiving turkey.

Some credit Lincoln with the first ever presidential Thanksgiving turkey pardon, but that’s the wrong holiday. In 1863, the Lincoln family received the bird as a gift meant to be cooked for Christmas dinner. But Tad Lincoln, 10 years old at the time, grew fond of the turkey, which he named Jack. Shortly before Jack was to be killed, Tad learned of the turkey’s impending fate. He successfully pleaded for a stay from the turkey executioner and then ran into one of his father’s cabinet meetings, crying, “He’s a good turkey and I don’t want him killed.” So Lincoln “pardoned” the bird. (Fun fact: The next year, during the election of 1864, a special polling place was set up on the White House grounds for soldiers who wanted to vote. Jack the turkey strutted into the line of waiting soldiers, leading the elder Lincoln to ask his son whether the turkey would vote. Tad replied: “He is under age.”)

2. Myth: Harry S. Truman started the tradition of pardoning a Thanksgiving turkey.

In 1947, Truman did receive one from the National Turkey Federation, but he most likely ate it. From then on, presidents received turkeys for the holiday. As for who pardoned the first: It’s complicated. John F. Kennedy didn’t eat his, but he didn’t call this “pardoning,” though the press did. Nixon sent at least some of his turkeys to petting farms. Reagan jokingly used the word pardon. And it was President George H. W. Bush who officially said, “Let me assure you, and this fine tom turkey, that he will not end up on anyone’s dinner table, not this guy—he’s granted a presidential pardon as of right now.”

3. Myth: Tryptophan is what makes you sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner.

We’ve all heard relatives blame their post-Thanksgiving-dinner sleepiness on tryptophan. But that’s not quite fair. It’s true that turkey contains the amino acid tryptophan. And it’s true that the human body can use tryptophan to make serotonin, which helps us sleep. But turkey contains lots of amino acids that the body works hard to get to the brain for various purposes. There’s less tryptophan than those other amino acids; the amount of tryptophan that actually makes it to the brain to create serotonin could best be described as ... poultry. (Not sorry!) Plus, turkey has less tryptophan than other foods like cheese and nuts. Thanksgiving grogginess is probably just due to overeating, and drinking if that’s your thing.

4. Myth: Washing a turkey before cooking it kills bacteria.

Some believe you need to rinse a turkey before cooking it to kill bacteria, but the USDA actually recommends against it. When you wash raw poultry, you risk kitchen contamination. Just cook your bird to 165°F (about 74°C) to eliminate scary bacteria.

5. Myth: Pop-Up thermometers pop when the turkey is cooked.

In fact, many of these thermometers are designed to pop up when the turkey has reached around 180-185°F—in other words: overcooked! And Consumer Reports tested pop-up timers and found that some popped when the meat was still severely undercooked. Experts recommend you use a regular probe thermometer instead. By the way, according to the USDA website, while checking the temperature of a cooking turkey, it’s important to monitor “the innermost part of the thigh and wing, and the thickest part of the breast.”

6. Myth: Turducken is a new dish.

Turducken is not a new dish, though it was only really popularized around the turn of the 21st century, when announcer John Madden was known to rhapsodize about it during Thanksgiving NFL games. There are recipes going back to at least 1774 containing multiple birds within each other. In 1807, a recipe called “roast without equal” emerged that called for 17 birds: sky-lark, thrush, quail, ortolan, lapwing, golden plover, partridge, woodcock, teal, guinea-hen, guinea fowl, wild duck, fowl, red pheasant, wild goose, bustard, and fig pecker.

The creator of the turducken, specifically, is up for debate, but many trace its roots to Louisiana or to Louisiana-based chef Paul Prudhomme, who claimed to invent the dish while in a Wyoming lodge. Fun fact: According to Men’s Health, a typical Turducken contains more than 12,000 calories. A regular turkey clocks in at around 2400.

7. Myth: Stuffing is cooked inside the turkey and dressing is cooked in a dish.

While there are some who subscribe to that distinction, geography generally plays a bigger role in deciding which term is used. Dressing is more common in the southern United States, whether cooked inside the bird or not, while stuffing is more common up north.

8. Myth: Canned pumpkin puree isn't actually pumpkin.

There was a rumor going around in 2016 that canned pumpkin puree was actually a puree of—gasp—squash! But this one is kind of complicated. The company Libby’s makes about 85 percent of the pumpkin puree sold worldwide and they use Dickinson pumpkins in their recipes. And if you want to sell a food and call it "pumpkin" in the U.S., the FDA allows food prepared from any of the following to apply: "golden-fleshed, sweet squash, or mixtures of such squash and field pumpkin." Field pumpkin is what most of us picture when we think of a pumpkin—it's round and orange and ready to be carved. Dickinson pumpkins aren't so pretty; they're tan with less defined ridges. As for whether they can be considered pumpkins, experts disagree. Some say they're pumpkins, some say they're squash, some say it doesn't matter because it's all squash anyway!

9. Myth: There was popcorn at the first Thanksgiving.

It’s a misconception that there was popcorn at the first Thanksgiving. We can trace this myth back to the 1889 novel Standish of Standish by Jane G. Austin—not to be confused with the other Jane Austen. During the 1620s, the type of corn that grew in Plymouth was Northern Flint corn, which doesn’t have the strong kernels that are ideal for popping.

10. Myth: The 1621 celebration was a Thanksgiving.

We call it “Thanksgiving” but ... it probably wasn’t that. Pilgrims did celebrate “thanksgiving days” after fortunate events, but those were usually religious days. They’d go to church and give thanks to God, which is not what the Wampanoag people and Pilgrims did during their 1621 celebration, as far as we know. To be clear, what we do know is limited. It mostly comes from one letter written by Edward Winslow. In 1841, his letter was published in Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers by Boston writer and publisher Alexander Young. Young called the occasion the “First Thanksgiving,” even though there’s no mention of “thanksgiving” in the original text.

11. Myth: The "Thanksgiving" celebration was the first Thanksgiving.

Even if it had been a thanksgiving, it wouldn’t have been the first one in North America. First of all, many Native American tribes also held ceremonies in which the purpose was to give thanks. And many other European settlers did, too. In 1565, a group of Spaniards invited the Timucua tribe to their thanksgiving in Saint Augustine, Florida. In 1598, another group of Spaniards held a thanksgiving celebration on the Rio Grande. And in 1619, another thanksgiving took place near Jamestown.

So the 1621 festival was not the reverential day (or three days) some picture. It was more like a harvest festival. About 50 Pilgrims and 90 Wampanoag people got together and partied. In addition to a lot of eating, they likely had games, races, and mark shooting. The Pilgrims were known to brew beer, so there may have been some imbibing as well.

12. Myth: The Pilgrims invited the Native Americans to the celebration out of thanks.

We say that the Pilgrims invited Native Americans to the festival out of gratitude for helping them with the harvest because it makes for a nice story, but there’s no way to confirm that it’s true. Edward Winslow’s letter simply says there were “many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest King Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted.”

13. Myth: The Pilgrims fled to American to escape religious persecution.

The Pilgrims are famous for their religious lifestyle. But they didn’t come to America to escape religious persecution like some claim. In fact, they had already done that when they left England and moved to Leiden, Holland during the early 17th century. They then decided to leave Holland where they had religious freedom, but were having trouble making ends meet. Some also feared losing their English identity among the Dutch.

14. Myth: The Pilgrims wore hats and shoes with buckles at Thanksgiving.

And by the way, Pilgrims didn’t wear black and white or buckled hats and shoes at the meal. Black and gray were reserved for Sundays, but considering this Thanksgiving wasn’t a religious day, they likely wore their regular clothes, which could be red, green, brown, blue, or a number of other colors. Plain leather was used for shoe laces and belts because it was cheaper and more fashionable than buckles.

15. Myth: The day after Thanksgiving called Black Friday because business get "back in the black" thanks to all the shopping done that day.

It’s a myth that the day after Thanksgiving is named for being the day that businesses get “back in the black” after being financially in the red. In fact, the most popular explanation for the name says that police in Philadelphia began calling it “Black Friday” in the 1950s because many local stores held sales for the crowds in town for the Army-Navy football game. The police hated this chaotic day that involved working overtime, so they used the color “black” to mean “bad.” It was a way of expressing distaste for this day that made things difficult for them. Within about a decade, the whole city was aware of the nickname. It became a well known term all over the U.S. around the mid- to late-1980s.

16. Myth: It's always been the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

It’s a misconception that the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was always a celebration in honor of Thanksgiving. Originally, it was the Macy’s Christmas Parade. And actually, you could say that the first parade in 1924 was really honoring Macy’s, itself, as much as anything else. The parade commemorated the flagship store’s expansion into what was then considered the world’s largest department store under one roof. It took place on Thanksgiving day, but it focused on reaching the store’s Christmas window display titled “The Fairyfolk Frolics of Wondertown.” Over the next few years it would be identified by different names—the Thanksgiving Parade, the Christmas Parade or even the Annual Show—but by the 1930s it was solidly the Thanksgiving Day Parade

17. Myth: Thanksgiving is an exclusively American holiday.

Finally, it’s not true that Thanksgiving is an exclusively American holiday. There are comparable celebrations around the world. Canadian Thanksgiving is very similar to the American one, but it ostensibly traces its history back to explorer Martin Frobisher, who landed in Canada and held a thanksgiving in 1578. Though we could probably make a list of myths about Canadian Thanksgiving, too. As historian Peter Stevens notes, “there is no evidence that connects the modern Canadian Thanksgiving to Frobisher’s sixteenth-century celebration.”

Some places celebrate versions of Thanksgiving because of historical connections with America. Grenada, Australia’s Norfolk Island, and Leiden, Holland all fit that bill. And there are other holidays which share certain aspects of American Thanksgiving. Germany has Erntedankfest, a similar harvest festival of thanks. And Japan has a holiday which evolved from a harvest festival and now celebrates worker’s rights. Its name, Kinro Kansha no Hi, can be translated to “Labor Thanksgiving.”

10 Fascinating Facts About Chinese New Year

iStock.com/aluxum
iStock.com/aluxum

Some celebrants call it the Spring Festival, a stretch of time that signals the progression of the lunisolar Chinese calendar; others know it as the Chinese New Year. For a 15-day period beginning January 25 in 2020, China will welcome the Year of the Rat, one of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac table.

Sound unfamiliar? No need to worry: Check out 10 facts about how one-sixth of the world's total population rings in the new year.

1. Chinese New Year was originally meant to scare off a monster.

Nian at Chinese New Year
iStock.com/jjMiller11

As legend would have it, many of the trademarks of the Chinese New Year are rooted in an ancient fear of Nian, a ferocious monster who would wait until the first day of the year to terrorize villagers. Acting on the advice of a wise old sage, the townspeople used loud noises from drums, fireworks, and the color red to scare him off—all remain components of the celebration today.

2. A lot of families use Chinese New Year as motivation to clean the house.

woman ready to clean a home
iStock.com/PRImageFactory

While the methods of honoring the Chinese New Year have varied over the years, it originally began as an opportunity for households to cleanse their quarters of "huiqi," or the breaths of those that lingered in the area. Families performed meticulous cleaning rituals to honor deities that they believed would pay them visits. The holiday is still used as a time to get cleaning supplies out, although the work is supposed to be done before it officially begins.

3. Chinese New Year will prompt billions of trips.

Man waiting for a train.
iStock.com/MongkolChuewong

Because the Chinese New Year places emphasis on family ties, hundreds of millions of people will use the Lunar period to make the trip home. Accounting for cars, trains, planes, and other methods of transport, the holiday is estimated to prompt nearly three billion trips over the 15-day timeframe.

4. Chinese New Year involves a lot of superstitions.

Colorful pills and medications
iStock.com/FotografiaBasica

While not all revelers subscribe to embedded beliefs about what not to do during the Chinese New Year, others try their best to observe some very particular prohibitions. Visiting a hospital or taking medicine is believed to invite ill health; lending or borrowing money will promote debt; crying children can bring about bad luck.

5. Some people rent boyfriends or girlfriends for Chinese New Year to soothe their parents.

Young Asian couple smiling
iStock.com/RichVintage

In China, it's sometimes frowned upon to remain single as you enter your thirties. When singles return home to visit their parents, some will opt to hire a person to pose as their significant other in order to make it appear like they're in a relationship and avoid parental scolding. Rent-a-boyfriends or girlfriends can get an average of $145 a day.

6. Red envelopes are everywhere during Chinese New Year.

a person accepting a red envelope
iStock.com/Creative-Family

An often-observed tradition during Spring Festival is to give gifts of red envelopes containing money. (The color red symbolizes energy and fortune.) New bills are expected; old, wrinkled cash is a sign of laziness. People sometimes walk around with cash-stuffed envelopes in case they run into someone they need to give a gift to. If someone offers you an envelope, it's best to accept it with both hands and open it in private.

7. Chinese New Year can create record levels of smog.

fireworks over Beijing's Forbidden City
iStock.com/lusea

Fireworks are a staple of Spring Festival in China, but there's more danger associated with the tradition than explosive mishaps. Cities like Beijing can experience a 15-fold increase in particulate pollution. In 2016, Shanghai banned the lighting of fireworks within the metropolitan area.

8. Black clothes are a bad omen during Chinese New Year.

toddler dressed up for Chinese New Year
iStock.com/lusea

So are white clothes. In China, both black and white apparel is traditionally associated with mourning and are to be avoided during the Lunar month. The red, colorful clothes favored for the holiday symbolize good fortune.

9. Chinese New Year leads to planes being stuffed full of cherries.

Bowl of cherries
iStock.com/CatLane

Cherries are such a popular food during the Festival that suppliers need to go to extremes in order to meet demand. In 2017, Singapore Airlines flew four chartered jets to Southeast and North Asian areas. More than 300 tons were being delivered in time for the festivities.

10. Panda Express is hoping Chinese New Year will catch on in America.

Box of takeout Chinese food from Panda Express
domandtrey, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Although their Chinese food menu runs more along the lines of Americanized fare, the franchise Panda Express is still hoping the U.S. will get more involved in the festival. The chain is promoting the holiday in its locations by running ad spots and giving away a red envelope containing a gift: a coupon for free food. Aside from a boost in business, Panda Express hopes to raise awareness about the popular holiday in North America.

Write a Letter to Shakespeare’s Juliet for a Chance to Spend Valentine’s Day in Her Romantic Verona Home

Airbnb
Airbnb

Shakespeare didn’t specify which luxurious Italian estate was home to Juliet and her family in Romeo and Juliet, but hopeless romantics have linked a certain 13th-century house in Verona to the Capulets for many years. A balcony was even added during the 20th century to mirror the famous scene from Shakespeare’s play.

Now, Airbnb is offering one pair of star-crossed lovers the opportunity to stay in the house for Valentine’s Day. To apply, you have to write a letter to Juliet explaining why you and your sweetheart would be the ideal guests for the one-night getaway. The winner will be chosen by the Juliet Club, an organization responsible for answering the 50,000 letters addressed to Juliet each year.

juliet's house in verona, italy
Airbnb

If you’re chosen, you won’t just get to spend the evening reenacting the few happy parts of Romeo and Juliet—you’ll also be treated to a candlelight dinner with a cooking demonstration by Michelin-starred Italian chef Giancarlo Perbellini, access to a personal butler for the duration of your stay, tours of both the house and the city of Verona, and the chance to read and answer some letters sent to Juliet. Even the bed you’ll sleep in is especially romantic—it’s the one used in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet.

juliet's house in verona, italy
Airbnb

juliet's house in verona, italy
Airbnb

And, of course, you’ll be giving yourself the ultimate Valentine’s Day gift: Freedom from the pressure to plan a perfect Valentine’s Day. The contest is open now through February 2, 2020, and you can apply here.

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