Let’s Talk Turkey: The Truth About Thanksgiving Traditions
Eels, FDR, and food comas
Good news: It’s time for your favorite Thanksgiving traditions!
Bad news: many of them aren't real traditions.
It’s true that Pilgrims shared a harvest celebration with local Wampanoag Indians in 1621,i but the meal probably didn’t look anything like modern Thanksgiving.
There may have been turkey, but it’s more likely that goose or pigeon was served.ii
Potatoes still hadn’t been planted in America, and cranberry sauce hadn’t been invented yetiii — so for side dishes, the Pilgrims had to settle for eel and lobster.iv
And while Americans celebrated all sorts of Thanksgivings after that, the government changed the date of the holiday in 1939 — when President Franklin Roosevelt moved it a week earlier.v
FDR picked the date in order to extend the Christmas shopping season, which he thought would help move the country out of the Great Depression.vi
One holiday tradition that hasn’t changed?
The post-Thanksgiving nap.
It’s common to blame the drowsiness on tryptophan, an amino acid found in turkey.vii
But while it’s true that tryptophan causes the brain to release chemicals that make us sleepy, turkey actually has less of the amino acid than chicken.viii
So, if you find yourself drifting off after your last slice of pie, it’s probably just because you ate too much.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
- The first Thanksgiving menu likely included pigeon, eel, and lobster.
- FDR set Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November to encourage holiday shopping.
- Tryptophan levels in turkey aren’t responsible for post-Thanksgiving sleepiness.
- Thanksgiving 2021 — History
- "What Was on the Menu at the First Thanksgiving?" (Megan Gambino) — Smithsonian Magazine
- Congress Establishes Thanksgiving — National Archives
- "No, the Tryptophan in Turkey Won’t Make You Sleepy" (Daniel Victor) — New York Times
SOUND: "Walk in the Garden" (Francois Couture)
FOOTAGE:Library of Congress (Unsplash)
CITED SOURCES AND NEWS OUTLETS ARE NOT AFFILIATED WITH AND HAVE NOT ENDORSED OR SPONSORED ANY PORTION OF THIS PRODUCTION.
- Smithsonian Magazine
"What Was on the Menu at the First Thanksgiving?" (Megan Gambino)
- National Archives
Congress Establishes Thanksgiving
- New York Times
"No, the Tryptophan in Turkey Won’t Make You Sleepy" (Daniel Victor)