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Thanksgiving: The Biography of an American Holiday

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In this, the first in-depth study of the most American of holidays, James Baker sweeps away lingering myths and misconceptions to show how this celebration day was born and grew to be an essential part of our national spirit. Thanksgiving: The Biography of an American Holiday opens with an overview of the popular mythos of the holiday before discussing its possible religio In this, the first in-depth study of the most American of holidays, James Baker sweeps away lingering myths and misconceptions to show how this celebration day was born and grew to be an essential part of our national spirit. Thanksgiving: The Biography of an American Holiday opens with an overview of the popular mythos of the holiday before discussing its possible religious and cultural precedents. This classic Yankee holiday is examined in historical and contemporary detail that embraces everything from proclamations, sermons, and local and regional traditions to family reunions, turkey dinners, and recipes. Thanksgiving's evolving face is illustrated with charming and often revealing period prints that chart our changing attitudes: the influence of Victorian sentiment in Thanksgiving's development, Progressive utilitarianism, intellectual "debunking," patriotic wartime reclamation, and 1960s-era protest. Thanksgiving remains controversial up to the present day, as Mayflower descendants, Native Americans, and commercial exploiters compete for the American public's opinion of the holiday's contemporary significance and its future status. This is an intelligent and illuminating introduction to a beloved holiday and a fascinating cultural history of America and Americana.


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In this, the first in-depth study of the most American of holidays, James Baker sweeps away lingering myths and misconceptions to show how this celebration day was born and grew to be an essential part of our national spirit. Thanksgiving: The Biography of an American Holiday opens with an overview of the popular mythos of the holiday before discussing its possible religio In this, the first in-depth study of the most American of holidays, James Baker sweeps away lingering myths and misconceptions to show how this celebration day was born and grew to be an essential part of our national spirit. Thanksgiving: The Biography of an American Holiday opens with an overview of the popular mythos of the holiday before discussing its possible religious and cultural precedents. This classic Yankee holiday is examined in historical and contemporary detail that embraces everything from proclamations, sermons, and local and regional traditions to family reunions, turkey dinners, and recipes. Thanksgiving's evolving face is illustrated with charming and often revealing period prints that chart our changing attitudes: the influence of Victorian sentiment in Thanksgiving's development, Progressive utilitarianism, intellectual "debunking," patriotic wartime reclamation, and 1960s-era protest. Thanksgiving remains controversial up to the present day, as Mayflower descendants, Native Americans, and commercial exploiters compete for the American public's opinion of the holiday's contemporary significance and its future status. This is an intelligent and illuminating introduction to a beloved holiday and a fascinating cultural history of America and Americana.

30 review for Thanksgiving: The Biography of an American Holiday

  1. 4 out of 5

    Danielle

    I'll come back to this one next November. It was boring and redundant in parts, but if I'd been reading it on my own, I definitely would have finished it. Since I was reading it with my husband and our "read together" time is pretty rare with 3 preschoolers, we'll have to try again next year. Anyway, if there can be a foremost expert on Thanksgiving, Baker must be it. You'd think that would be a plus in a book about Thanksgiving, but I think this would have been a more interesting read for the la I'll come back to this one next November. It was boring and redundant in parts, but if I'd been reading it on my own, I definitely would have finished it. Since I was reading it with my husband and our "read together" time is pretty rare with 3 preschoolers, we'll have to try again next year. Anyway, if there can be a foremost expert on Thanksgiving, Baker must be it. You'd think that would be a plus in a book about Thanksgiving, but I think this would have been a more interesting read for the layperson if it had been written by a journalist, rather than a historian. This book would have benefited greatly from endnotes. As it was, Baker seemed unable to leave any detail out, and restated things so many times that I literally had to check to make sure I hadn't accidentally started reading a section I'd already finished. Nope, apparently he just gives no credit to the intelligence of his readers. Okay, that aside, there were so many interesting facts. For example, I loved learning about how "Thanksgivings" in Puritan New England were a response to Fast Days. First you fast for the blessing, then you give thanks when you receive it. Giving thanks was more characterized by attending a lot of church on a weekday than by eating a big meal (being a Puritan would have seriously sucked), so, as you might have guessed, the first Thanksgiving wasn't a Thanksgiving at all, but was actually a harvest festival. Anyway, like I said, I would have liked to read more, because the information was interesting. Sadly, the presentation was lacking.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Denise

    Picked this up because of some laughable claims made by certain groups in my area about this holiday. Also, thought it would be interesting to bone up on some US history. Basically, most of the legends and stories told about the origins of Thanksgiving are false and most of the traditional elements are add-ons from each generation. The pilgrims didn't believe in annual holidays and they didn't get along with the natives particularly well. Having a day of thanks could happen any day of the year an Picked this up because of some laughable claims made by certain groups in my area about this holiday. Also, thought it would be interesting to bone up on some US history. Basically, most of the legends and stories told about the origins of Thanksgiving are false and most of the traditional elements are add-ons from each generation. The pilgrims didn't believe in annual holidays and they didn't get along with the natives particularly well. Having a day of thanks could happen any day of the year and was set by the clergy. The pumpkin pies and football of today replaced fasting, prayer, and church service. As for parades, a fun way for department stores to kick off the Christmas shopping season -the pilgrims would have been mortified. Despite the layers and changes through the last few hundred years, thankfully, Thanksgiving has managed to remain a day of family. I found this book to be highly informative; I do agree with previous reviewers that the book is dull and repetitive.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jenette

    I couldn't get out of the first chapter. The writing is dry and not a style I prefer. The author often repeats himself making this a very long read. I will be looking for a different book on the history of the first Thanksgiving. I couldn't get out of the first chapter. The writing is dry and not a style I prefer. The author often repeats himself making this a very long read. I will be looking for a different book on the history of the first Thanksgiving.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Qwerty

    A bit boring.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    A bit dry, but overall a very informative book about Thanksgiving and the history surrounding this holiday.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kelsey

    I loved reading about how the holiday of Thanksgiving has culturally changed throughout the years. While it could at times be a bit of a dry read with too many (I would argue unimportant or uninteresting) details, it was still an entertaining read to learn more about this holiday.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Loraine

    This is a very accessible history of what post modern Americans consider our national holiday. Well, in was once a moveable feast, one that was declared as opposed to fixed. In its early days it certainly modeled the Old World harvest festival, but has morphed into its current expression over the last two centuries. Mr. Baker has indeed written a biography of our American holiday--note the emphasis on the notion of biography.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Megan

  9. 5 out of 5

    Khristina

  10. 4 out of 5

    Anthony

  11. 4 out of 5

    Anthony

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ken

  13. 5 out of 5

    Leah

  14. 4 out of 5

    Maggi Smith-Dalton

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jw

  16. 5 out of 5

    Renee C

  17. 4 out of 5

    Daphne Wigger

  18. 4 out of 5

    Susan

  19. 5 out of 5

    Nanny Almquist

  20. 4 out of 5

    Naomi

  21. 4 out of 5

    Christina

  22. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jo March

  24. 4 out of 5

    R.P. Thead

  25. 5 out of 5

    Heidi

  26. 5 out of 5

    Betty Ann

  27. 4 out of 5

    Reneasy

  28. 4 out of 5

    Biisbsw

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mintybooks

  30. 4 out of 5

    Danielle

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