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The Meaning of Thanksgiving Day



Thanksgiving is a venerable and much beloved American holiday. But what do we celebrate on Thanksgiving? In this ebook, we examine the meaning of Thanksgiving Day, with selections by American authors such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Jack London, Langston Hughes, Sarah Orne Jewett and O. Henry, to name just a few. We begin by exploring the origins and traditions of the Thanksgiving holiday, and then consider our private and public blessings.

The ebook also features two in-depth discussion guides, one for George Washington’ s Thanksgiving Proclamation and one for O. Henry’s classic short story “Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen.” Each selection includes a brief introduction by the editors with guiding questions for discussion. 

WATCH: Editors Amy Kass, Leon Kass, and Diana Schaub discuss George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation and O. Henry’s “Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen” with Christopher DeMuth (Hudson Institute).

Thanksgiving Day: An American Holiday
The Origins and Traditions of Thanksgiving Day
William Bradford, Excerpts from Of Plymouth Plantation
George Washington, Thanksgiving Proclamation
Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, Excerpt from Northwood
Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, “Our National Thanksgiving”
Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, Letter to President Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln, Thanksgiving Proclamation
Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama, Modern Thanksgiving Proclamations
James W. Ceaser, Excerpt from “No Thanks to Gratitude”
Thanksgiving Day Proclamations, 1789–present

Public and Private Blessings: The Things for Which We Should Be Grateful
John Greenleaf Whittier, “For an Autumn Festival”
John Greenleaf Whittier, “The Corn Song”

Hearth and Home
Louisa May Alcott, “An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving”
Lydia Maria Child, “Thanksgiving Day”
Nathaniel Hawthorne, "John Inglefield's Thanksgiving"
Edgar Albert Guest, “Thanksgiving”
Susan Minot, “Thanksgiving Day”
Ana Menéndez, “Celebrations of Thanksgiving: Cuban Seasonings”

Harriet Beecher Stowe, “How We Kept Thanksgiving at Oldtown”
Jack London, “Thanksgiving on Slav Creek”
Sarah Orne Jewett, “The Lost Turkey”
Langston Hughes, “Those Who Have No Turkey”

Neighborliness and Hospitality
Sarah Orne Jewett, “The Night Before Thanksgiving”
O. Henry, “Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen”

Liberty and Equal Opportunity
Daniel Webster, Excerpt from “The First Settlement of New England”
Dorothy Canfield Fisher, “A New Pioneer”
Edward Everett Hale, “Thanksgiving at the Polls”

Discussion Guides
Discussion Guide for George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation
Discussion Guide for O. Henry’s “Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen”

ABOUT THE COVER: Jennie Brownscombe, The First Thanksgiving, 1914

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