The “First Thanksgiving” in the 21st Century—as Retold in Presidential Proclamations

Author: Judd Birdsall

August 31, 2021

In this article, Senior Research Fellow Judd Birdsall explores how American presidents retell and interpret the so-called “First Thanksgiving.” Birdsall offers analysis of the 20 presidential Thanksgiving proclamations issued from 2001 to 2020, situating them within the long evolution of the holiday. The specific focus is on how Bush, Obama, and Trump spoke of God, pilgrims, Indians, and the enduring “spirit” of the First Thanksgiving. The analysis gives a glimpse into contemporary popular understandings and political uses of Thanksgiving and its imagined roots—and how those understandings and uses contrast with those of previous generations. This article is published in The Review of Faith & International Affairs 19, no. 3 (2021): 55–64. 

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