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Celebrating the Family

Celebrating the Family

Ethnicity, Consumer Culture, and Family Rituals

Elizabeth H. Pleck

ISBN 9780674002791

Publication date: 07/04/2000

Nostalgia for the imagined warm family gatherings of yesteryear has colored our understanding of family celebrations. Elizabeth Pleck examines family traditions over two centuries and finds a complicated process of change in the way Americans have celebrated holidays such as Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, Chinese New Year, and Passover as well as the life cycle rituals of birth, coming of age, marriage, and death. By the early nineteenth century carnivalesque celebrations outside the home were becoming sentimental occasions that used consumer culture and displays of status and wealth to celebrate the idea of home and family. The 1960s saw the full emergence of a postsentimental approach to holiday celebration, which takes place outside as often as inside the home, and recognizes changes in the family and women's roles, as well as the growth of ethnic group consciousness.

This multicultural, comparative history of American family celebration, rich in detail and spiced with telling anecdotes and illustrations and a keen sense of irony, offers insight into the significance of ethnicity and consumer culture in shaping what people regard as the most memorable moments of family life.


  • "A very enjoyable, provocative, and scholarly sound book. Celebrating the Family is significant, thorough, and eminently readable. Pleck is especially interested in the way that celebrations have been transformed from 'carnivalesque' qualities, involving various types of social inversion and disorder, into 'domestic' rituals that reinforce women's roles and child-centeredness. She treats each holiday and ritual with impressive sensitivity. She acknowledges the 'dark side,' the social critiques of various celebrations and understands the effects holidays have had on those at the margin of the family--single people, gay people, and others not completely accepted into a family--and those who lacked resources to partake of socially constructed celebrations. Pleck's book will have a major impact. It represents social history at its best. It is thoroughly researched, ahead of more than reflective of recent scholarship, and clearly articulated.

    —Howard P. Chudacoff, Brown University


  • Elizabeth Pleck is Associate Professor of History, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the author of Domestic Tyranny: The Making of Social Policy against Family Violence from Colonial Times to the Present.

Book Details

  • 338 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press