Thanksgiving stories, traditions not all factual

by rcnewsblog on November 25, 2013

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Traditions surround the Thanksgiving holiday in America.

But many of these traditions are myths that have developed over the past 60-70 years, according to Dr. Mark Miller, professor of history at Roanoke College.

The Thanksgiving feast in Plymouth, Mass., in 1621 actually had little historical connection with the modern Thanksgiving holiday that has become American tradition.

Miller shares five myths and traditions commonly associated with this annual day of giving thanks.

1. Myth: The Europeans and Native Americans got along well together.

Fact: Europeans were terrified of the new world. They did not quickly accept any product of this new and wild place. They believed the Native Americans were a lost tribe of Israel that was somehow made wild by the terrible wilderness they lived in. Europeans enacted laws that prohibited touching or looking at an Indian.

2. Myth: Pilgrims attended the first Thanksgiving.

Fact: Today’s images of pilgrims are distorted. Pilgrims did not attend the first Thanksgiving feast. The term “pilgrim” was created in the 1830s, when the United States divided into the North and South before the Civil War. Historians named the first group of Englishmen who lived in the North “pilgrims.”

3. Tradition: The original Thanksgiving feast was the fourth Thursday in November.

Fact: Thanksgiving began as a harvest celebration to give thanks for the bounty of a harvest. It was likely held in late summer or early fall after the rush of field work was completed.

In 1864, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln called for a day of national Thanksgiving in November. It did not become an official holiday until the 1930s.

4. Myth: Roanoke College celebrates Thanksgiving and traditionally has closed the campus on that day.

Fact: Roanoke College celebrated its first Thanksgiving in 1920 and did not allow students time off from classes until the 1950s.

5. Tradition: Turkey was served during the first Thanksgiving meal.

Fact: The traditional Thanksgiving Day menu is much the same as it was in 17th century America. Corn, turkey, venison and cranberries were a part of the original meal.

-By Shelby Sacco ’14

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