Celebrating the Spring Holidays

Debunking 18 Thanksgiving Myths

Debunking 18 Thanksgiving Myths


Did you know that Abraham Lincoln pardoned
a *Christmas* turkey? Hi, I’m Erin McCarthy, editor-in-chief of MentalFloss.Com. 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. And that’s the first of many Thanksgiving
myths I’m going to debunk for you today. It’s also a misconception that Harry S.
Truman started the tradition of pardoning a Thanksgiving turkey. In 1947, he 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…well, 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.” 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. 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 degrees Fahrenheit
(about 74 degrees Celsius) to eliminate scary bacteria. That’s what the experts have to
say, but I have to admit I’m still curious: who’s team ‘rinse the turkey’ and who’s team
‘no rinse’? Let us know in the comments. 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.” Which brings me to my next
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 degrees Fahrenheit—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. Turducken is not a new dish, though it was really only 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—which is a real bird and, obviously,
why I insisted on reading this list. 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. It’s a misconception that “stuffing” is
cooked inside a 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. There was a rumor going around in 2016 that
canned pumpkin puree was actually a puree of –gasp– squash! But this one is actually kind of
complicated. The company Libby’s makes about 85% 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! 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. And we call it “Thanksgiving” but…this
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 tribe 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. 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 people from the Wampanoag tribe 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. 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.” 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 already did 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 amongst the Dutch. 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. Speaking of fashion, we have to talk about
Black Friday shopping. 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. “Black Friday” was a way of expressing distaste for a 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 US around the mid to late 1980s. 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 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.” And 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.” We pushed back our fossil episode for a very special surprise. You can still drop your favorite fossil facts in the comments for a chance to be featured in that episode. That
will go up on December 4th. Make sure to subscribe here so you don’t miss it. We’ll see you
then!


Reader Comments

  1. #1 Debunked Thanksgiving Myth :
    Every time someone farts after dinner an angel gets its wings.
    The More You Know🌈🌟
    "NUFF SAID"

  2. Idk where the rising or washing your poultry started but it’s moronic. Unless you’re planning on serving a medium rare bird, cooking the thing will kill all the bacteria.

  3. Turkeys don't need to be pardoned because they're not guilty of any crimes. Go vegan and avoid unnecessary cruelty to animals, improve your health and save the environment!

  4. How about ya'll ignore the geography part & just go by what the word "stuffing" actually means…that would end the debate.

    :
    "​ (North American English also dressing) a mixture of finely chopped food, such as bread, onions and herbs, placed inside a chicken, etc. before it is cooked to give it flavour "
    The clue is in the word. If it's not meant to go in the thing being cooked, then it's not stuffing.

    loophole : (it's kind of stuffing for the baking dish i guess…) 😛

  5. Since I was a child in the 50's watching the televised parade in black and white while my mother fussed in the kitchen, I've ALWAYS called it the Macy's Day Parade.
    Frankly, it isn't getting any better through the years…

    As for washing poultry. Given that commercially produced poultry has been dunked in myriad disinfectants, I'd be inclined to wash it just to get the toxic chemicals off of it. It can be done carefully without hosing it down to expose the kitchen to droplets.

  6. 8:50 – Erin says "finally", as in the last fact of 18 (going by the video title), yet the counter in the lower-right corner states 17. Later, at 9:23, the 18th fact is slid in.

    Sneaky, Mental Floss.

  7. No rinse. That’s kind of crazy…just cook your bird

    Plus with poultry, the contamination is inside the meat…I could maybe see it for beef. But even then…”rinsing” doesn’t kill things. You’d either have to use soap or boiling water, so you’re either ruining your meat or just, you know, cooking it

  8. I have one, Native Americans don't celebrate. No I am not Native, but I worked at a retail store where many natives from one reservation, and some from a separate reservation shopped. I asked a decent amount of my native customers this question. While some may have lied due to avoid awkwardness, many of those who I talked with (also I usually only had actual conversations with customers with large orders to prevent backup but also to help pass the time) and a decent percentage said yes, while others said no. Some said yes to celebrate progress while hoping for a better future, for others, well, most. Cultures enjoy an excuse to feast with family and friends.

  9. There is no thanksgiving in Leiden or in the rest of the Netherlands. The only mention I could find is that the American Church in the Netherlands has a service every year in the Pieterskerk in Leiden. In some orthodox Christian traditions there is "Dankdag voor het gewas". This translates to "Thanking day for the crops", in which people give thanks for a good harvest.

  10. A thanksgiving in Leiden? I've never heard of that, and for the past 17 years, I've been living near Leiden, having worked in Leiden for several years as well.

    Leiden does have a local holiday in autumn, but that's on October 3rd, but that's the celebrate the end of the Siege of Leiden, which lasted from 1573 till 1574; several decades before the Pilgrims sailed across the ocean.

    There's also a "Dankdag voor Gewas en Arbeid" ("Day of giving thanks for harvest and labour"), but that's a religion holiday, celebrated in orthodox churches in more rural areas. It's celebrated on the first Wednesday of November. There's a corresponding day in March, where they pray for a good farming season.

  11. Hard to have a first thanksgiving in 1621 when it was an official public holiday in Britain since the Thanksgiving Act of 1606. Just saying.

  12. Yeah no, I don't rinse my poultry at all. It seems really strange that people would do that but I guess people in US are overly paranoid over most things food related because their food regulations suck. Here where I live (Sweden for reference) all of our food is strictly regulated, tested and has little to no shortcuts in production. We don't need to be doing anything to it really. But you still shouldn't rinse it because bacteria all pretty much die when cooked properly.

  13. St. Augustine wasn't the first Thanksgiving over here, either. The French established Fort Caroline just north of St. Augustine (where modern day Jacksonville is now) a year before the Spanish established their colony, and celebrated a meal of thanksgiving with the Timucuans a year before the Spanish.

  14. "and there are other holidays like thanksgiving"

    really you don't say, there are other holidays like the harvest festival we celebrate that every culture has?

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