Thanksgiving provides a unique opportunity to see just how food can act as lieux de mémoire. Thanksgiving is a celebration that reminds people of the country’s connections to the Pilgrims and also provides the opportunity for people to get together with family and reminisce. In the previous section, it was noted how Nora identifies lieux de mémoire in three ways: material, symbolic, and functional. In addition, these three identifications need to coexist in order for objects to qualify as lieux de mémoire. As it so happens, Thanksgiving and the food eaten on this day, fall into each of these categories and can therefore be described as a lieux de mémoire.

As stated, one of the ways Nora identifies a lieu de mémoire is via a functional aspect where the lieux are “objects of ritual.” (Nora 19). In the case of immigrants in America, Thanksgiving food was a way “to articulate their vision of American identity as a balanced fusion of their group culture with dominant American elements.” (Pleck 30). The foods are the objects where the memories are stored and where connections back to cultural and familial history can be traced. Therefore, they serve as the objects of the ritual of remembering. They also serve as objects of the ritual of assimilation because the immigrants are utilizing traditional Thanksgiving food to become more American.

Additionally, the foods on Thanksgiving, the ritual objects, are usually always the same. As expressed in Foodways and Folklore, “It would be hard to imagine a November Thanksgiving dinner without a turkey and the traditional trimmings of stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green vegetables, cranberry sauce, rolls, and pumpkin pie.” (Thursby 5). The food dishes that are served over generations become the objects of the ritual of celebrating Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving would be rather hollow without these foods, as these foods are always identified with the holiday. As the holiday is about remembering the past and is celebrated annually, the food dishes then become “objects of ritual” (Nora 19).

A second way that lieux de mémoire are identified is if whether they satisfy the symbolic requirement. When President Lincoln first recognized Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1863, the intention was for Thanksgiving to “serve as a commemorative ritual at which Americans symbolically return to a founding event of their nation and reaffirm their basic national, familial, and religious values.” (Pleck 21). Americans were supposed to set aside time once a year to sit down around the food of their forefathers, the Pilgrims. The intention was to remind Americans of the national history and the spirit in which the country was found in the hopes that this spirit would be rejuvenated by the annual Thanksgiving feast. By observing Thanksgiving every year, Americans would be forced to address the memories of their forefathers. For Nora, a lieu de mémoire is only symbolic if it “serves as a concentrated appeal to memory by literally breaking a temporal continuity.” (Nora 19) and Thanksgiving clearly qualifies.

Finally, lieux de mémoire are identified by Nora is if they are material sites where “the imagination invests it with a symbolic aura.” (Nora 19). On Thanksgiving, the material sites like the table, the food, and the people sitting around the table are invested with a collective symbolism. According to Pleck, “The portrait of a happy family seated around a Thanksgiving dinner table in Norman Rockwell’s Freedom from Want symbolized for the World War II generation the unity of family and nation.” (Pleck 35). Clearly, food is not just food.  People invest the food with the idea that it serves to unify people together, especially on Thanksgiving day. The food doesn’t tell people to think about unity and national history, people just naturally think about it when they see this food. In this way, the food on Thanksgiving qualifies as material sites.

When following the three categories that Nora uses to identify lieux de mémoire, it is clear that Thanksgiving and its foods satisfy all three categories and are consequently lieux de mémoire. The food in the Thanksgiving feast is the object of ritual. Thanksgiving is a symbolic time for people to return to the times of their ancestors and reflect on the values of that time. Finally, the food on Thanksgiving day is invested with the idea that it is more than just food, rather that it is a unifier and recalls national history. By satisfying these three requirements, Thanksgiving and the food consumed on this day can be identified as lieux de mémoire.


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