Inventing American Tradition : From the Mayflower to Cinco De Mayo
by Eller, Jack David

Introduction: Tradition is Not What It Used to Be13(35)
American Political Traditions
1 Of Thee I Sing: National Anthem
2 You're a Grand Old Rag: American Flag
3 The New American Man: Uncle Sam
4 The Republic for Which It Stands: Pledge of Allegiance and Motto
American Holiday Traditions
5 We Gather Together: Thanksgiving
6 Honor Thy Mother and Father, etc.: Mother's Day and Father's Day
7 Lest We Forget: Patriotic Holidays
8 We Are the World: Ethnic American Holidays
American Lifestyle Traditions
9 America in a Word: "ok"
10 I'd Like to Teach the World: Coca-Cola
11 Meals on Wheels: Hamburger
12 America's Individualistic Uniform: Blue Jeans
American Traditional Characters
13 And the American Way: Superman
14 Who's the Leader of the Club? Mickey Mouse
15 You'll Go Down in History: Some American Characters
Conclusion: The Future of American Tradition280(29)
Further Reading331(4)
Photo Acknowledgements335(2)

What really happened on the first Thanksgiving? How did a British drinking song become the US national anthem? And what makes Superman so darned American? Every tradition, even the noblest and most cherished, has a history, none more so than in the United States—a nation born with relative indifference, if not hostility, to the past. Most Americans would be surprised to learn just how recent (and controversial) the origins of their traditions are, as well as how those origins are often related to such divisive forces as the trauma of the Civil War or fears for American identity stemming from immigration and socialism.

In pithy, entertaining chapters, Inventing American Tradition explores a set of beloved traditions spanning political symbols, holidays, lifestyles, and fictional characters—everything from the anthem to the American flag, blue jeans, and Mickey Mouse. Shedding light on the individuals who created these traditions and their motivations for promoting them, Jack David Eller reveals the murky, conflicted, confused, and contradictory history of emblems and institutions we very often take to be the bedrock of America. What emerges from this sideways take on our most celebrated Americanisms is the realization that all traditions are invented by particular people at particular times for particular reasons, and that the process of “traditioning” is forever ongoing—especially in the land of the free.

Jack David Eller is a retired associate professor of anthropology at the Community College of Denver. He is the author of numerous books, including Cultural Anthropology: Global Forces, Local Lives; Culture and Diversity in the United States; and Cruel Creeds, Virtuous Violence: Religious Violence across Culture and History.

The concept of traditions being invented seems counterintuitive, writes Eller (Cultural Anthropology, 2016), but since the United States has no ancient past and was "self-consciously created," what we now consider uniquely American traditions had to be constructed or cobbled together from a variety of sources. After a skippable introductory scholarly analysis, Eller highlights what he considers "the most familiar, important, and revealing" traditions in American politics, holidays, lifestyle, and popular culture and how they came to be. Whether it's civic fare like the national anthem, the American flag, Uncle Sam, and the Pledge of Allegiance or cultural icons like Coca-Cola, blue jeans, Superman, and even the word OK, the stories behind these traditions help provide texture to the fabric of everyday American life. (Even ethnic holidays like St. Patrick's Day and Cinco de Mayo are more American than Irish and Mexican.) Eller's conclusion: "the myth and legend is as important-and revealing-as the 'facts'." With such wide-ranging subjects, the book should appeal to those interested in dipping into a digestible history of Americana. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.

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