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.”

Keep Your Cat Busy With a Board Game That Doubles as a Scratch Pad

Cheerble
Cheerble

No matter how much you love playing with your cat, waving a feather toy in front of its face can get monotonous after a while (for the both of you). To shake up playtime, the Cheerble three-in-one board game looks to provide your feline housemate with hours of hands-free entertainment.

Cheerble's board game, which is currently raising money on Kickstarter, is designed to keep even the most restless cats stimulated. The first component of the game is the electronic Cheerble ball, which rolls on its own when your cat touches it with their paw or nose—no remote control required. And on days when your cat is especially energetic, you can adjust the ball's settings to roll and bounce in a way that matches their stamina.

Cheerable cat toy on Kickstarter.
Cheerble

The Cheerble balls are meant to pair with the Cheerble game board, which consists of a box that has plenty of room for balls to roll around. The board is also covered on one side with a platform that has holes big enough for your cat to fit their paws through, so they can hunt the balls like a game of Whack-a-Mole. And if your cat ever loses interest in chasing the ball, the board also includes a built-in scratch pad and fluffy wand toy to slap around. A simplified version of the board game includes the scratch pad without the wand or hole maze, so you can tailor your purchase for your cat's interests.

Cheerble cat board game.
Cheerble

Since launching its campaign on Kickstarter on April 23, Cheerble has raised over $128,000, already blowing past its initial goal of $6416. You can back the Kickstarter today to claim a Cheerble product, with $32 getting you a ball and $58 getting you the board game. You can make your pledge here, with shipping estimated for July 2020.

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12 Things You Might Not Know About Juneteenth

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

There's more than one Independence Day in the U.S. On June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, and announced enslaved people were now free. Since then, June 19 has been celebrated as Juneteenth across the nation. Here's what you should know about the historic event and celebration.

1. Enslaved people had already been emancipated—they just didn’t know it.

The June 19 announcement came more than two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. So technically, from the Union's perspective, the 250,000 enslaved people in Texas were already free—but none of them were aware of it, and no one was in a rush to inform them.

2. There are many theories as to why the Emancipation Proclamation wasn’t enforced in Texas.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendering to Union General Ulysses S Grant at the close of the American Civil War, at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia on April 9, 1865.
Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendering to Union General Ulysses S Grant at the close of the American Civil War, at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia on April 9, 1865.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

News traveled slowly back in those days—it took Confederate soldiers in western Texas more than two months to hear that Robert E. Lee had surrendered at Appomattox. Still, some have struggled to explain the 30-month gap between Lincoln’s proclamation and the enslaved people’s freedom, leading to speculation that some Texans suppressed the announcement. Other theories include that the original messenger was murdered to prevent the information from being relayed or that the federal government purposely delayed the announcement to Texas to get one more cotton harvest out of the enslaved workers. But the real reason is probably that Lincoln's proclamation simply wasn't enforceable in the rebel states before the end of the war.

3. The announcement actually urged freedmen and freedwomen to stay with their former owners.

General Order No. 3, as read by General Granger, said:

"The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere."

4. What followed was known as “the scatter.”


Internet Archive Book Images, Flickr // No known copyright restrictions

Most freedpeople weren't terribly interested in staying with the people who had enslaved them, even if pay was involved. In fact, some were leaving before Granger had finished making the announcement. What followed became known as "the scatter,," when droves of former enslaved people left the state to find family members or more welcoming accommodations in northern regions.

5. Not all enslaved people were freed instantly.

Texas is a large state, and General Granger's order (and the troops needed to enforce it) were slow to spread. According to historian James Smallwood, many enslavers deliberately suppressed the information until after the harvest, and some beyond that. In July 1867 there were two separate reports of enslaved people being freed, and one report of a Texas horse thief named Alex Simpson whose enslaved people were only freed after his hanging in 1868.

6. Freedom created other problems.

Despite the announcement, Texas slave owners weren't too eager to part with what they felt was their property. When freedpeople tried to leave, many of them were beaten, lynched, or murdered. "They would catch [freed slaves] swimming across [the] Sabine River and shoot them," a former enslaved person named Susan Merritt recalled.

7. There were limited options for celebrating.

A monument in Houston's Emancipation Park.
A monument in Houston's Emancipation Park.
2C2KPhotography, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

When freedpeople tried to celebrate the first anniversary of the announcement a year later, they were faced with a problem: Segregation laws were expanding rapidly, and there were no public places or parks they were permitted to use. So, in the 1870s, former enslaved people pooled together $800 and purchased 10 acres of land, which they deemed "Emancipation Park." It was the only public park and swimming pool in the Houston area that was open to African Americans until the 1950s.

8. Juneteenth celebrations waned for several decades.

It wasn't because people no longer wanted to celebrate freedom—but, as Slate so eloquently put it, "it's difficult to celebrate freedom when your life is defined by oppression on all sides." Juneteenth celebrations waned during the era of Jim Crow laws until the civil rights movement of the 1960s, when the Poor People's March planned by Martin Luther King Jr. was purposely scheduled to coincide with the date. The march brought Juneteenth back to the forefront, and when march participants took the celebrations back to their home states, the holiday was reborn.

9. Texas was the first state to declare Juneteenth a state holiday.

Texas deemed the holiday worthy of statewide recognition in 1980, becoming the first state to do so.

10. Juneteeth is still not a federal holiday.

Though most states now officially recognize Juneteenth, it's still not a national holiday. As a senator, Barack Obama co-sponsored legislation to make Juneteenth a national holiday, though it didn't pass then or while he was president. One supporter of the idea is 93-year-old Opal Lee—in 2016, when she was 90, Lee began walking from state to state to draw attention to the cause.

11. The Juneteenth flag is full of symbolism.

a mock-up of the Juneteenth flag
iStock

Juneteenth flag designer L.J. Graf packed lots of meaning into her design. The colors red, white, and blue echo the American flag to symbolize that the enslaved people and their descendants were Americans. The star in the middle pays homage to Texas, while the bursting "new star" on the "horizon" of the red and blue fields represents a new freedom and a new people.

12. Juneteenth traditions vary across the U.S.

As the tradition of Juneteenth spread across the U.S., different localities put different spins on celebrations. In southern states, the holiday is traditionally celebrated with oral histories and readings, "red soda water" or strawberry soda, and barbecues. Some states serve up Marcus Garvey salad with red, green, and black beans, in honor of the black nationalist. Rodeos have become part of the tradition in the southwest, while contests, concerts, and parades are a common theme across the country.