Monday, November 21, 2011

Ebook of the Week - Thanksgiving: The Biography of an American Holiday

Baker, James W.  Thanksgiving: The Biography of an American Holiday  Durham, N.H.: University of New Hampshire Press, 2009.

The origins and history of this distinctly American holiday are a great deal more complex than many people realize. The popular conception of the day as a commemoration of a 1621 al fresco dinner where Pilgrims and their Native American guests peacefully celebrated a successful harvest after a very difficult first winter is only a small part of the story. Thanksgiving actually had its origins as a Puritan holy day that predated Pilgrim migration to North America. At first it was celebrated only in New England, but by the late 18th century had been established as a national holiday. Still, it was not associated with the 1621 dinner until the rediscovery in 1840 of a 1622 booklet called Mourt’s Relation that described the Pilgrim/Indian feast. Nevertheless, this image of Thanksgiving did not really take hold until the early 20th century; in fact, some popular depictions from the Victorian era showed the colonists being attacked by their indigenous neighbors while trying to eat their Thanksgiving dinner. Baker is uniquely qualified to write this fascinating account: he grew up in Plymouth, Massachusetts, worked as a teenager on the Mayflower II, and has been the research librarian at Plimoth Plantation since 1975. He traces the evolution of the holiday up to the present, bringing in cultural ramifications and the latter-day protests by Native American groups.

Previewed by Jack Ray.  Click here to read the book.

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