10 Historical Untruths About the First Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Started With the Puritans
The Pilgrim fathers land in New England, where they founded the Plymouth Colony. Three Lions/Getty Images

Mention Thanksgiving, and the first thing that comes to mind for most folks is turkey. Christmas is all about buying and giving stuff, but Americans dedicate the November holiday mostly to stuffing themselves.

It didn't start this way, however. Puritan settlers in New England originally celebrated days of "thanksgiving" in prayer, thanking the good Lord for various successes in the New World.

The feasting associated with the modern American holiday, on the other hand, is tied to a specific event in the fall of 1621. Pilgrims (not to be confused with Puritans -- we'll explain later) who were religious settlers from England, came to America via the Netherlands after breaking away from the Church of England. They celebrated what's considered the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts. The newcomers celebrated the event with members of the Wampanoag tribe, with whom they had recently signed a treaty of mutual protection [source: Plimoth Plantation].

This original Thanksgiving was held to mark the Pilgrims' first bountiful harvest. The settlers were particularly grateful for the successful crop, as the harvest followed what had been a long and difficult year, rife with sickness and a limited food supply. Indeed, it was unclear whether the colony would survive in these early days and the good harvest was something of a light at the end of a rather bleak tunnel [sources: Plimoth Plantation].

Yet these partying Pilgrims and Indians weren't the first to toast a successful harvest. The practice of celebrating a good haul was popular throughout Europe long before the Mayflower touched down on Plymouth Rock. North American Indians, like the Wampanoag, often held similar events come harvest time [sources: Plimoth Plantation, Scholastic].