Author Denise Kiernan traces the origins of the Thanksgiving holiday and explores the idea of expressing gratitude collectively as a nation in her book, We Gather Together: A Nation Divided, A President in Turmoil, and a Historic Campaign to Embrace Gratitude and Grace. Through the perseverance of writer, editor, abolitionist and women's rights activist Sarah Josepha Hale, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday to be held on the 4th Thursday in November, during the Civil War in 1863. Hale was an incredibly accomplished "influencer" of her day, and had campaigned presidents for 33 years to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. Her vision was to set aside the day as a time for Americans to enjoy a hearty meal with loved ones and to express gratitude for the harvest and for their many blessings. Lincoln agreed to proclaim the holiday out of a wish to bring our warring nation together.
The most surprising takeaway for me was that Thanksgiving was not associated with the Pilgrims until 1939 when Franklin Delano Roosevelt mentioned in his Thanksgiving proclamation: "More than three centuries ago, at the season of the gathering in of the harvest, the Pilgrims humbly paused in their work and gave thanks to God for the preservation of their community and for the abundant yield of the soil." We Gather Together describes how the Wampanoag tribe signed a treaty with the Pilgrims and taught them how to plant in the harsh Massachusetts climate. Though this alliance enabled the Pilgrims to survive the year, the Native Americans were not honored or even acknowledged in American Thanksgiving tales until after Senator Edward Kennedy and his subcommittee issued a report on Indian education, unemployment and infant mortality in 1969.
We Gather Together enlightens us to the fact that Thanksgiving is understandably mourned by many Native Americans for whom the arrival of the Europeans marked the beginning of the end of their civilization. However, celebrating the Pilgrims was never the original intent of the holiday, and we would do well to keep that clear in our minds, as expressing gratitude for family, friends and all that is good in our lives has been shown in scientific studies to make us better and happier people, according to Kiernan.
Kiernan has written a very even-handed story of Thanksgiving, with lots of interesting historical details that kept me engrossed from the start. She takes the reader beyond the tired old stereotypical stories of Thanksgiving, and presents the facts with honesty and good humor. Kiernan goes on to encourage schools and politicians to continue to broaden inclusivity in our expressions of gratitude, and to make amends to the Native Americans whose land the early Europeans so brutally stole.
⭐⭐⭐⭐/5 on Goodreads Ripe Reads group. Hardcover 304 pages, Audiobook 7 Hours 15 minutes.