20 November 2018

New Thanksgiving Reading

Thanksgiving: The True Story, Penny Colman
This is billed as a children's book, but I think that's in vocabulary only, as the author takes time to mention her own celebrations and memories, and to relate the results of a survey she sent to people ages nine to eighty-nine. It just doesn't strike me as a "children's book," just one written in very simple vocabulary. In any case, I welcome any book about Thanksgiving that isn't about recipes! Sure, we celebrate by eating, but Thanksgiving is about more than that.

I'm watching the History Channel's old special about Thanksgiving and it pretty well parallels this book in that it opens talking about what was "really" the first Thanksgiving: was it celebrated by the Spanish in Texas? Or the English in Virginia? Or the French in Florida? But the story that "stuck" was the traditional one about the Pilgrims (Separatists from the Anglican church of England) who held a great feast (not an actual Thanksgiving; that was a church service) in celebration of a good harvest, known as a "Harvest Home." As Colman mentions, today we're not even sure the Native Americans were invited; the settlers were having a celebration that included target shooting, and the natives may have simply showed up to see what they were up to. However, the account of this celebration wasn't rediscovered until 1841, and the Thanksgiving custom was already well entrenched by then, especially as a family celebration in New England where they didn't celebrate Christmas and in the "Ohio country" and other states made out of the old "Western Reserve" where New Englanders moved. Other Thanksgivings, like one in Boston, and harvest festivals were actually the genesis of our modern holiday. Pilgrims and Indians didn't enter the Thanksgiving mythos until late Victorian times.

Of course Colman talks about Sarah Josepha Hale's successful campaign to make Thanksgiving a national holiday—Hale led a very unconventional life for a 19th century lady: she was tutored not only in housewifery and the Bible, but also read Milton, Addison, Pope, Johnson, Cowper, Burns, and Shakespeare in an era where girls just learned housekeeping, and her brother also came home from his studies at Harvard and let her study his books, and then later she and her husband, an attorney, studied in the evenings together, including botany, French, and minerology; when her husband died she made her living as a magazine editor—and also about the proliferation of sports, especially football, on Thanksgiving day, and the development of the Thanksgiving parade that led into the Christmas season.

I could wish for clearer prints of the etchings and other printed illustrations included in the book. Otherwise I enjoyed the heck out of it, and learned a lot about Sarah Hale that I didn't know before.

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Robert M. Grippo and Christopher Hoskins
This is another of Arcadia Publishing's wonderful "images of America" books with (mostly) black and white illustrations chronicling the history of the Macy's parade, originally the Macy's Christmas Parade in its first ten years, starting in 1924 when Macy's employees asked to put on a parade like they did in the old country. Each chapter presents a dense summary of each year, one decade to a chapter, where you'll discover when the famous balloons first joined the march and how they were dealt with originally at the end of the parade and when it was first televised and how a 1947 film made it famous, and the book is chock-full of photos and vintage Macy's posters advertising the parade. If you're into vintage photographs or the Macy's parade, this should definitely be on your Christmas list, and you can hold it, if you like, as I did with both of these books, until next November to read.

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