American Consequences - November 2020

(For comparison, the world’s longest Zoom call was only 23 hours and 39 minutes.) When Abraham Lincoln made it a national holiday nearly two and half centuries later, it was partly at the behest of writer Sarah Josepha Hale, who’d made the same request of his four predecessors in the office. But it was more so in honor of the Union victory at Gettysburg that Lincoln designated November 26, 1863 the first national Thanksgiving. And, this year, when anxieties about the dawn of a second Civil War are only just beginning to dissipate in the aftermath of a tense election, it happens to fall on the same day: November 26. The controversial colonial circumstances of the first Thanksgiving make its straightforward, historical celebration less than kosher in 2020. But it’s not hard, from where we are now, to see how Lincoln’s canonization of Thanksgiving made for good wartime politics. Gathering our frayed attention around the sentimental image of flinty settlers feasting after a long, perilous journey, and before an even longer (and perhaps no less perilous) winter in a strange new land where the future held nothing but mystery – if it’s not outright inspiring, at least it’s more relatable all of sudden than in years past. It’s the sort of myth that, regardless of history, gains meaning depending on its spiritual resonance with the challenges of our present reality. I’m lifting this, by the way, from a book of popular history I once gave my dad for Christmas, and which he then immediately gave back to me because he’d already read it: A

Alice Lloyd is a writer and reporter in Washington, D.C., covering culture, politics, and the weirdness in between. Her work has been featured in the New York Times , the Washington Post , the Boston Globe , and the Weekly Standard . Thanksgiving as a “made-up” holiday. But the book’s closing scenes go along better with his acknowledgement that this time of year, and this year especially, we just need a reason to gather together – albeit only via screen for now. Horwitz returns to Plymouth, where he meets a mixed-race Baptist minister participating in a reenactment. The minister elegantly refutes Horwitz’s whole premise with one simple point – namely, that “Myth is more important than history.” Myth and history agree on one key point in the case of the Mayflower pilgrims: They made it through the winter that followed. And so, here’s hoping will we, too... Voyage Long and Strange by Tony Horwitz. It opens with a disappointing trip to Plymouth Rock and the author’s motivating admission that he, like so many of us, knows next to nothing about the American continent’s pre- Mayflower European settlers. (Read the book if you’re curious!) The journey that follows functionally supports my dad’s dismissal of

American Consequences


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