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Answers to 5 common Thanksgiving questions (no, the Pilgrims didn’t have turkey)

Thanksgiving Table. (vxla/Flickr)

You know Turkey Day is rapidly approaching when inordinate amounts of canned pumpkin puree and oversize frozen fowls start flowing out of your neighborhood grocery store.

But despite the excitement (or dread) surrounding the annual family-focused feast, we often overlook the very reason for its existence — the history behind the holiday. Why do we celebrate it? When did it come about? What’s the deal with those Pilgrims?

Data from Google Analytics revealed the most-searched-for questions about Thanksgiving, and we’re here to give you the quick scoop. Turkey Day Cliff Notes, if you will. Feel free to drop these knowledge bombs on Aunt Paula when she starts interrogating you about marriage and having babies — or when Grandpa Eugene gets going with that political banter.

When is Thanksgiving? Yes, this really was the most-searched-for question. Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday of November every year. So Nov. 22, 2018.

When was the first Thanksgiving? November 1621, after the colonists had their first successful corn harvest. The colony’s governor organized a celebratory feast and invited the Wampanoag chief and his tribe. The festival lasted three days, but did not become an annual holiday at that point.

Was turkey on the menu? In short, no. Few records of the actual menu exist, but historians say both parties contributed to the meal: the Wampanoag people brought five deer, and the colonists hunted for local fowl, including swans, and also provided seal, lobster and venison. There were likely no desserts, since the Pilgrims had no oven and a dwindling sugar supply.

Why do we even celebrate Thanksgiving? It’s all thanks to a woman. Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of an influential women’s magazine, read about the 1621 feast and was determined to make the occasion an annual national holiday. Hale lobbied to get President Abraham Lincoln on board, and in 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, Lincoln set Thanksgiving to be celebrated as a national holiday on the fourth Thursday of November every year.

Are there any conflicts associated with the holiday? The story about an amicable meal between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people varies depending on who’s controlling the narrative. Lessons taught in grade school often overlook the long conflict the two groups had that resulted in human and cultural death. Many people protest Thanksgiving and call it the “National Day of Mourning.” Some even gather at a place overlooking Plymouth Rock to remember the loss of lives, land, heritage and resources.

Bonus: Food findings. According to Google search data, the most-searched-for recipes include turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole and pumpkin pie. And speaking of that dessert, the most popular pies based on search inquiries are pumpkin, followed by pecan, apple, sweet potato and cherry.


© 2018 the Chicago Tribune

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