Americans gathering for Thanksgiving this week may assume they are continuing an unbroken chain of tradition that traces directly back to Massachusetts settlers in 1620. In fact, many of our most cherished Thanksgiving traditions are far more recent, and some are at odds with the historical record. When you examine various American traditions through the eyes of a historian and a cultural anthropologist, the gap between myth and fact can be vast. But that gap is instructive in revealing what Americans believe about ourselves. This is what Jack David Eller contends in Inventing American Tradition: From the Mayflower to Cinco de Mayo (Reaktion Books, 2018).
Eller is a retired professor of Anthropology at the Community College of Denver. His many books include Cultural Anthropology: Global Forces, Local Lives (Routledge, 3rd edition, 2016), and Culture and Diversity in the United States: So Many Ways to Be American (Routledge, 2015).