Tag Archives: Puritans

Thanksgiving and the Ambiguity of Memory

By Christoph Strobel

It was in the late after­noon on Novem­ber 22, 2018. Even by New Eng­land stan­dards, the weath­er was cold and blus­tery. Out­side of a dor­mi­to­ry at the uni­ver­si­ty where I teach, I met up with a Ger­man stu­dent who spent the 2018 fall semes­ter as a Ful­bright exchange stu­dent at my insti­tu­tion. My fam­i­ly had him over for din­ner before, and, as he had no place to go for Thanks­giv­ing, we invit­ed him to spend the hol­i­day din­ner at our house along with a few oth­er friends. When I picked him up, he was clear­ly sur­prised as the dor­mi­to­ry and the uni­ver­si­ty appeared com­plete­ly aban­doned. I explained to him that Thanks­giv­ing was ‘the’ big fam­i­ly event in the Unit­ed States and that extend­ed fam­i­lies are more like­ly to get togeth­er dur­ing this hol­i­day than for Christ­mas or the Fourth of July.

The din­ner table – resplen­dent with a large roast­ed turkey, mash pota­toes, var­i­ous breads and greens, as well as sweet pota­to and cran­ber­ry dish­es – remind­ed me of my first Thanks­giv­ings in 1993. I had just arrived in the U.S. and was look­ing for­ward to my job as a Ger­man lan­guage assis­tant at a small lib­er­al arts col­lege. Since those days, I have often won­dered about the var­i­ous mean­ings that Amer­i­cans ascribe to the hol­i­day and the some­times ambigu­ous and even con­test­ed rela­tion­ship that many have with Thanks­giv­ing. As a his­to­ri­an, I am fas­ci­nat­ed by how the his­to­ry that sur­rounds the hol­i­day is often ignored or san­i­tized by many in main­stream Amer­i­can soci­ety. In fact, Native Amer­i­cans tend to have an entire­ly dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive on Thanks­giv­ing, but more about that later.

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