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Thanksgiving: The Pilgrims' First Year in America Cover Image

Book Review Twenty-One

November 22, 2008

Whatever holiday we celebrate, it usually contains more meaning if we take the time to share its beginnings. "A Great and Godly Adventure" by Godfrey Hodgson and "Thanksgiving" by Glenn Cheney offer anyone enough background on the history of Thanksgiving to make us pause in healthy perspective before we take that first bite of our favorite dish. Both are relatively short and are divided so that readers can choose their areas of interest. Cheney's book contains detailed information on the relationship between the Native Americans and their new English settlers. His description of the first encounter between the Pilgrims and the English speaking Samoset humorously punctures some illusions. Wearing only a piece of fringed leather about his waist, he "revealed more male skin than the Pilgrim women had seen outside of their homes" and as it turned out Samoset had developed a strong liking for their English beer.

Both titles compare the current traditional Thanksgiving meal to that of the initial one shared. Cranberries, sweet tea, Turkey with its abundant trimmings, and pumpkin pie were obviously absent. Instead, the main course was mainly boiled. Portions of available animals such as venison, beaver, moose, otters and raccoons were all placed in the same pot. Its only modern day comparison might be an extreme combination of various Brunswick stews from your favorite barbecue eatery.

"A Great and Godly Adventure" renders a more complete history of Thanksgiving. It not only examines the religious history of the Pilgrims but just as importantly, relates the growth of Thanksgiving as the unique American holiday that it has become. Thanksgiving is probably the most inclusive of all those days we celebrate. It doesn't exclude because of race, religion, or political persuasion. Hodgson points out that Thanksgiving has evolved and adapted itself to the changing beliefs and aspirations of our society. It has become as he describes it the "thread running through the wider history of the United States... a national interpretation of an almost universal human custom that has many things to say about the American experience and the American philosophy." Since Washington's first proclamation and Lincoln's official pronouncement to FDR's establishment of the correct day in November, their goal has been to officially remind all of us to set aside time not to desire or ask but rather to be grateful, for all that we have.

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