Just a few images of Thanksgiving that come to my mind today as I read about current events. They don’t add up to a clear historical narrative–just food for thought.
“Home to Thanksgiving,” George H. Durrie, 1861. As late as the Civil War, homecoming was probably the most common theme of Thanksgiving images. For supporters of the holiday, Thanksgiving was “supremely the home day,” with “the gathering together of the family its most charming feature.”
“Football Match between Yale and Princeton,” Harper’s Weekly, 1879. In 1876 the newly formed Intercollegiate Football Association held its championship game on Thanksgiving Day in New York City, and in short order the annual Thanksgiving Day contest had evolved into the country’s premier sporting event, drawing crowds upwards of forty thousand by the early 1890s.
“Thanksgiving: A Study in Proportion,” Udo Keppler, 1912. By the early twentieth century, numerous commentators feared that Thanksgiving had become nothing more than a day for pleasure and self-indulgence. This Puck cartoon shows a pile of large items representing the pleasures of the holiday—a football, golf clubs, a shotgun, a theater mask and, of course, a turkey—towering over a dark and probably empty church in the background.
“First Thanksgiving at Plymouth,” Jeannie Brownscombe, 1914. On the eve of WWI, Brownscombe’s imaginative recreation of the “First Thanksgiving” helped link Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims’ 1621 celebration in the public mind. Although full of historical inaccuracies, the artist did rightly portray the feast as a large, public, outdoor event.
“Freedom from Want,” Norman Rockwell, 1943. This now iconic portrayal of a family Thanksgiving meal graced the cover of the Saturday Evening Post in the midst of World War Two.
Thanksgiving Night, 2015? This spontaneous photograph of early Black Friday violence has swept the internet.