33 Fun Thanksgiving and Pilgrims Facts for ANY Class!

for any teacher
Interesting Facts about Thanksgiving!

Help your students uncover all of the fascinating aspects that surround the history of Thanksgiving—one of the most culturally significant events in American history that resonates to this very day as its own national holiday!


These 33 fun facts all about Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims, the Mayflower, and the Mayflower Compact are guaranteed to spark student engagement and learning in your classroom (regardless of age or grade level!) and provide a great opportunity for young minds to learn all about the origins of this national holiday (as well as to kick off the festive season!)


You won't find most of these intriguing facts in the history books!


From understanding the role of the Church of England and the significance of the Wampanoag People's assistance to the Pilgrims' quest for religious freedom and their ensuing voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to a new land in search of a new life to become English settlers and establish a new home for themselves to meeting and interacting with various indigenous peoples and the first Thanksgiving feast, these 33 interesting facts all about Thanksgiving are not just educational but also a celebration of the resilience and hope that define the American spirit. So, set sail on this exciting adventure with your students and discover the rich tapestry of fun facts that make the story of the first Thanksgiving and the history of Thanksgiving such a rich, memorable chapter in the history of North America!


In no particular order, here are 33 FUN and INTERESTING facts for teaching your students all about Thanksgiving, no matter what time of the school year it is!


Fact #1: The Pilgrims did not commonly wear the black and white clothing with buckles that is often depicted in popular culture and is historically inaccurate

They'd only wear black and white clothing with buckles on their hats, shoes, and belts sparingly, typically for formal wear to attend religious services, as black dye was expensive. Rather, they commonly wore clothing of a variety of colors, often brown, green, and blue, and the attire of men typically consisted of a shirt, doublet, breeches, and a cloak, whereas women often wore a shift, petticoat, gown, apron, and a coif or hat.

(Source: "The Pilgrims and Plymouth Colony" by Duane A. Cline.)


Fact #2: The Pilgrims' Sunday services would last all day, with a break at midday

It was during Sunday services as they practiced their religious beliefs that Pilgrims would wear their formal attire that we so often associate them with (the black and white clothing with buckles on their hats, belts, and shoes)

(Source: "The Puritan Family: Religion and Domestic Relations in Seventeenth-Century New England" by Edmund S. Morgan.)

Depiction of Pilgrims walking to mass (wearing the formal wear they're commonly remembered for)


Fact #3: The Mayflower was originally a cargo ship

Before transporting the Pilgrims to the New World, the Mayflower was used for shipping wine. 

(Sources: "MayflowerHistory.com" and "Smithsonian Magazine)


Fact #4: The Mayflower's passengers were a mix of religious separatists and people seeking new opportunities for various reasons; not all were fleeing religious persecution

(Source: "The Mayflower Compact" by the Pilgrim Society, which provides detailed accounts of the passengers.)

Depiction of the Mayflower setting sail from Europe 


Fact #5: The term "Pilgrims" was not used to refer to the Mayflower passengers until the 19th century

They were originally known as "Old Comers."

(Source: "They Knew They Were Pilgrims" by John G. Turner, which explores the history and legacy of the Pilgrims.)


Fact #6: The Mayflower Compact was a pioneering and influential document signed on November 11, 1620

Soon upon realizing that they'd need some sort of governing document upon making landfall in order to ensure order and cooperation amongst the settlers, 41 men aboard the Mayflower signed the Mayflower Compact on November 11, 1620, a document that would become one of the earliest forms of self-government in the New World and a stepping stone towards the democratic principles that many cherish in the United States today.

(Source: "The Mayflower Compact" transcription available through the National Archives.)

 An artist's rendering of the signing of the Mayflower Compact


Fact #7: The Mayflower Compact would serve as the governing document of Plymouth Colony for over 70 years, from 1620 until 1691! 

Beginning in 1685, colonial governments began to restructure in the aftermath of King Philip's War and their charters were revoked. Thus, Plymouth Colony was combined with Massachusetts Bay Colony and it's governing document, the Mayflower Compact, was replaced. 

(Sources: "Bradford's History 'Of Plimoth Plantation'" by William Bradford. and "Pilgrim Hall Museum")


Fact #8The Virginia Company, founded by King James I in 1606, financed the Pilgrims' voyage to the New World

(Source: "The Virginia Company of London, 1606-1624" by Wesley Frank Craven, which details the company's role in colonizing America.)


Fact #9: The Mayflower was originally bound for the mouth of the Hudson River, not Massachusetts Bay.

They were originally intended to settle near the Hudson River, not in New England.

(Source: "The Mayflower and Her Passengers" by Caleb H. Johnson.)


Fact #10: The Pilgrims explored several locations before settling in Plymouth, including Provincetown Harbor and Clark's Island.

(Source: "Plymouth Colony: Its History & People, 1620-1691" by Eugene Aubrey Stratton.)


Fact #11: Plymouth Rock is a symbol rather than history

There is no contemporary reference to the Pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock; it became a symbol of their landing much later.

(Sources: "Pilgrim Hall Museum" and "History.com.")



Fact #12: The Pilgrims settled in Plymouth because of its excellent harbor and cleared fields, which were the result of a previous Native American village that had perished due to disease.

(Source: "A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony" by John Demos.)


Fact # 13: The first winter claimed the lives of 45 out of the 102 Mayflower passengers, nearly half of the Pilgrims

The first winter and the bad weather that accompanied it was harsh for the Pilgrims, but with the help of the Native Americans, in particular, one group of people, the Wampanoag People, they learned to survive in New England. This alliance culminated in the First Thanksgiving, a feast that symbolized peace and gratitude. It's an interesting fact that the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims shared knowledge and resources, a true testament to the spirit of cooperation.

(Source: "Plymouth Colony: Its History & People, 1620-1691" by Eugene Aubrey Stratton)


Fact #14: The Pilgrims practiced communal agriculture during their first few years, which proved to be inefficient and was later replaced by a system of private plots.

(Source: "The Pilgrims and the First Thanksgiving" by Feenie Ziner.)


Fact #15: The Pilgrims' first contact with Native Americans was not with the Wampanoag but with the Nauset tribe on Cape Cod.

(Source: "Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War" by Nathaniel Philbrick.)


Fact #16: The Pilgrims' first encounter with Native Americans involved a skirmish known as the "First Encounter" near present-day Eastham on Cape Cod.

(Source: "The Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity" by Jill Lepore.)


Fact #17: The Wampanoag people were essential for the Pilgrims' survival

(Sources: "History.com" and "Native-Languages.org.)


Fact #18: The Wampanoag tribe taught the Pilgrims how to catch eel and grow corn.

(Source: "1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving" by Catherine O'Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac.)

Depiction of a Native American who caught eel


Fact #19: The Wampanoag leader Massasoit signed a peace treaty with the Pilgrims that lasted over 50 years.

(Source: "The Wampanoag" by Helen C. Rountree.)


Fact #20: The Pilgrims' first encounter with Samoset, a Native American who greeted them in English, was a surprise to both parties.

(Source: "Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War" by Nathaniel Philbrick)



Fact #21: John Carver was the first governor of Plymouth Colony

He served for only a year before passing away.

(Sources: "Pilgrim Hall Museum" and "Britannica.)


Fact #22: William Bradford was governor of Plymouth Colony for over 30 years!

One of the most famous Pilgrims, Bradford was also one of the most influential Pilgrim leaders and served as the second governor of Plymouth Colony for nearly 31 years!

(Sources: "Biography.com" and "History of Massachusetts Blog.)

Depiction of Bradford leading a meeting between Pilgrims and Native Americans


Fact #23: The First Thanksgiving was in 1621

The Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving to give thanks for the bountiful harvest with the Wampanoag people. This event is widely regarded as America's 'first Thanksgiving'.

(Sources: "Plimoth Plantation" and the "National Museum of the American Indian.")

 An artists depiction of the First Thanksgiving


Fact #24: The first documented Thanksgiving feast in North America was actually held in Texas by Spanish explorers in 1598, predating the Pilgrims' feast.

(Source: "Texas Almanac" by Elizabeth Cruce Alvarez.)


Fact #25: The first Thanksgiving meal included venison, fowl, and possibly fish and shellfish, but not the sweet potatoes or cranberry sauce common in modern celebrations.

(Source: "Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving Recipes and History, from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie" by Kathleen Curtin and Sandra L. Oliver.)


Fact #26: The Wampanoag Chief Massasoit and 90 of his men attended the first Thanksgiving celebration and feast

The first harvest festival event lasted three days and included games and entertainment.

(Source: "The Wampanoag" by Helen C. Rountree, an expert on the Native American tribes of the East Coast.)


Fact #27: The Pilgrims did not call their harvest feast Thanksgiving

That term was used to describe a religious day of prayer and fasting, not a feast.

(Source: "The Invention of Thanksgiving: A ritual of American nationality" by James W. Baker, a study on the evolution of the holiday.)


Fact #28: The Pilgrims' second Thanksgiving in 1623 followed a drought, and it was a day of fasting and prayer before the rains came.

(Source: "The Times of Their Lives: Life, Love, and Death in Plymouth Colony" by James Deetz and Patricia Scott Deetz.)


Fact #29: Thanksgiving was not repeated annually

It wasn't until the late 1660s that it became a regular event, and even then, it was not like the holiday we observe today.

(Source: "Thanksgiving: The Biography of an American Holiday" by James W. Baker, which traces the development of Thanksgiving Day.)


Fact #30: It wasn't until the midst of the Civil War, in 1863, that President Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday

Sarah Josepha Hale, the author of "Mary Had a Little Lamb," had tirelessly campaigned for years prior to making Thanksgiving a national holiday and her efforts didn't go unnoticed and finally paid off when President Lincoln made his Thanksgiving proclamation to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday on the last Thursday of November

(Sources: "National Women's History Museum" and "Library of Congress.)

Portrait of Sarah Josepha Hale


Fact #31: TWO Thanksgiving's were observed in 1939

Despite President Lincoln's Thanksgiving proclamation designating the last Thursday of November a national holiday to celebrate Thanksgiving, in 1939, November had five Thursdays instead of the usual four and per Franklin Roosevelt's Presidential Library and Museum (who was president then), some retailers requested that President Roosevelt move the Thanksgiving holiday that year from the last and fifth Thursday to the fourth Thursday of November of that year. These retail leaders felt that by moving Thanksgiving from the last and fifth Thursday of November that year to the fourth Thursday, it'd give people an extra week to begin shopping for Christmas. Roosevelt agreed to their request and moved Thanksgiving from the fifth and last Thursday of November in 1939, to the fourth Thursday, HOWEVER, not everyone agreed including the governors of sixteen states who decided that in their states, Thanksgiving would be celebrated, as it had always been since 1863, on the last, and in 1939, the fifth Thursday of November, NOT the fourth Thursday 

(Source: National Public Radio)


Fact #32: In 1941, Congress designated Thanksgiving as a national holiday to be celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November

To dispel the potential for any recurrences of the "controversy" the embroiled the nation in 1939 when November had five Thursdays in it, not the traditional four, in December of 1941 Congress passed and enacted a law which stipulates that every year moving forward, the Thanksgiving national holiday would be celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, even if the month, as it occasionally does, happens to have five Thursdays in it.

(Source: National Public Radio)


Fact #33: The tradition of the presidential pardon of a turkey on Thanksgiving began with President Harry S. Truman in 1947.

(Source: "Harry S. Truman Library & Museum.")

President Truman


Sharing some or all of these facts with your students is a GREAT way to teach them all about the many important and diverse aspects of Thanksgiving. Your students are guaranteed to become more interested in Thanksgiving after learning about these 33 fun and interesting facts all about Thanksgiving!


I hope you and your students enjoy!







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