Happy Thanksgiving: Little Men by Louisa May Alcott

published 1871

Thanksgiving Little Men 1

This yearly festival [Thanksgiving] was always kept at Plumfield in the good old-fashioned way, and nothing was allowed to interfere with it. For days beforehand, the little girls helped Asia and Mrs. Jo in storeroom and kitchen, making pies and puddings, sorting fruit, dusting dishes, and being very busy and immensely important.

[On the day] the boys retired to dress; and for half-an-hour there was a washing, brushing, and prinking that would have done any tidy woman’s heart good to see. When the bell rang, a troop of fresh-faced lads with shiny hair, clean collars, and Sunday jackets on, filed into the dining-room, where Mrs. Jo, in her one black silk, with a knot of her favorite white chrysanthemums in her bosom, sat at the head of the table, “looking splendid,” as the boys said, whenever she got herself up.

Daisy and Nan were as gay as a posy bed in their new winter dresses, with bright sashes and hair ribbons. Teddy was gorgeous to behold in a crimson merino blouse, and his best button boots, which absorbed and distracted him as much as Mr. Toot’s wristbands did on one occasion. As Mr. and Mrs. Bhaer glanced at each other down the long table, with those rows of happy faces on either side, they had a little thanksgiving all to themselves, and without a word, for one heart said to the other, “Our work has prospered, let us be grateful and go on.”

The clatter of knives and forks prevented much conversation for a few minutes, and Mary Ann with an amazing pink bow in her hair “flew round” briskly, handing plates and ladling out gravy. Nearly every one had contributed to the feast, so the dinner was a peculiarly interesting ones to the eaters of it, who beguiled the pauses by remarks on their own productions.

“If these are not good potatoes I never saw any,” observed Jack, as he received his fourth big mealy one.

“Some of my herbs are in the stuffing of the turkey, that’s why it’s so nice,” said Nan, taking a mouthful with intense satisfaction.

“My ducks are prime any way; Asia said she never cooked such fat ones,” added Tommy.

“Well, our carrots are beautiful, ain’t they, and our parsnips will be ever so good when we dig them,” put in Dick, and Dolly murmured his assent from behind the bone he was picking.

“I helped make the pies with my pumpkin,” called out Robby, with a laugh which he stopped by retiring into his mug.

“I picked some of the apples that the cider is made of,” said Demi.

“I raked the cranberries for the sauce,” cried Nat.

“I got the nuts,” added Dan, and so it went on all round the table.

Thanksgiving Little Men 2


As I like to say every year, Thanksgiving is a wonderful feast, and was one of the highlights of our year when we lived in the USA – I wrote in 2016:

It’s one of the nicest of festivals: very friendly and inclusive. and celebrating being grateful has got to be a good thing. And on a practical note, usually the cooking is shared and presents are not involved, so it isn’t too hard or expensive on anyone.

You wouldn’t know from the extract above, but the date of Thanksgiving had only recently been fixed in the USA at the time of this 1871 book – as Wikipedia says
Modern Thanksgiving was first officially called for in all states in 1863 by a presidential proclamation of Abraham Lincoln. Influenced by the campaigning of author Sarah Josepha Hale, who wrote letters to politicians for around 40 years trying to make it an official holiday, Lincoln proclaimed the date to be the final Thursday in November in an attempt to foster a sense of American unity between the Northern and Southern states. Because of the ongoing Civil War, a nationwide Thanksgiving date was not realized until Reconstruction was completed in the 1870s.
Little Men is the third in Louisa May Alcott’s stories of the March family: there’s the wonderful Little Women, the still-enjoyable Good Wives (in the UK these are two separate books: I understand they are more likely to be combined as one in the USA). And then there is this one, and Jo’s Boys. On a cheerful Thanksgiving Day I will not give my full opinion of them (I wrote THE MOST BORING BOOK EVER in my notes on this one, but Jo’s Boys would give it a run for its money) and sadly all Alcott’s feminist zeal and joy seem to have leached out by the time we get here. The girls do the cooking and learn womanly skills, while the boys run around outside. Not surprising for its time, in some ways, but surely we could expect more from the author of Little Women. It is sad to see Jo March brought to such stuffy ways.

But the feast sounds nice…

And I was interested that there were many mentions throughout the four books of cricket – was it played in the USA in the 19th century?

Samantha Ellis’s marvellous How to be a Heroine features Louisa M Alcott’s books at some length – she has her doubts about the books too….

There have been a number of Thanksgiving entries on the blog, including this roundup post.

Thanksgiving cards from the NYPL collection.


  1. I always missed the 'old' Jo in the later novels, too, Moira. Alcott was a product of her time, but still... You're right, too; that feast sounds scrumptious!

    1. I know! Jo conflicts us, I think.
      Hope you and yours had a great Thanksgiving Margot.

  2. Happy Thanksgiving to you, Moira.

    I need to know. I have gone back and forth on putting Little Women on my Classics List (a new one, not yet finished). What do you think? I have read it but eons ago.

    1. And to you and your family Tracy.
      I love Little Women, always have always will, it would be on my Classics list! It's her later books I'm not so keen on. I'd love to hear your views on it....

    2. OK, I have added it back. It was on my first list, then I took it off.

  3. Cricket was discussed in the comments of your last Little Women post; it seems baseball overtook it in popularity only after the Civil War.
    I absolutely agree about Little Men being tedious.
    And one line in Jo's Boys has puzzled me for years: Nan says in chapter 4 "The women of England can vote, and we can't. I'm ashamed of America that she isn't ahead in all good things." But this was written in 1886 so is Alcott imagining a future scenario here? (Although property-owning women could vote in the Isle of Man from 1881, but that's not really the same thing!)

    1. Yes indeed, there were some splendid comments and discussions last time too.
      Well I have never noticed that in Jo's Boys - that really was an odd thing to say. I wonder did women have the vote anywhere then?

  4. Replies
    1. No surprises there then. But then I'm not really recommending this one to anyone...


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