A few years ago, Melanie Kirkpatrick paid a visit to Newcomers High School in New York City. Newcomers is a public school in Queens that provides recent immigrants to the United States with intensive English-language training and an introduction to American culture.
Kirkpatrick was there on a late-November day to discuss the history of Thanksgiving with an audience drawn from more than 60 countries, speaking some 40 languages. Their conversation centered on the same question that drives her new book, Thanksgiving: The Holiday at the Heart of the American Experience—namely, what does this “uniquely American” holiday reveal about “the history, values, and culture of the United States?” The young people she queried didn’t know a great deal about the history of Thanksgiving, but they were pretty sure “the Pilgrims’ story mirrored their own experiences.” Kirkpatrick would have us all think the same.
Kaleidoscope of Impressions
Although Kirkpatrick describes her book as telling “the history of Thanksgiving,” her approach is more topical than chronological. She “weaves and bobs among the centuries,” offering chapters on—among other subjects—the “First Thanksgiving,” presidential Thanksgiving proclamations, Thanksgiving observances prior to the Pilgrims, Thanksgiving and Native Americans, Thanksgiving and football, Thanksgiving and generosity, and the traditional Thanksgiving menu. This kaleidoscope of impressions, Kirkpatrick contends, demonstrates how Thanksgiving “reflects and reinforces values most Americans share.” If she is right, most of us are generous, patriotic, family-oriented, appreciative of diversity, generically ...1
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