An Old-Fashioned Louisa May Alcott Thanksgiving

From Aunt Jo’s Scrap-Bag comes “An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving,” one of many charming short stories Louisa May Alcott wrote after the success of
Little Women.

Story summary

It’s a simple story of a time long ago and far away (very early 19th century), starring a country family in New Hampshire, “poor in money, but rich in land and love …” Familiar themes but I never grow tired of them, especially when the world today is so full of uncertainty and misery.

Takes you to another time

I never was a fan of descriptive writing, wishing instead for the plot line to simply proceed. This story’s descriptions however, folded me into its time and place such that the Bassett farmhouse was a home I truly wanted to visit and live in, even for a short time:

“The big kitchen was a jolly place just now, for in the great fireplace roared a cheerful fire; on the walls hung garlands of dried apples, onions, and corn; up a loft from the beams shone crook-necked squashes, juicy hams, and dried venison . . . Savory smells were in the air; on the crane hung steaming kettles; and down among the red embers copper saucepans simmered, all suggestive of some approaching feast.”

Dinner with the Bassetts

The story line is simple: Mother and Father are called away suddenly the day before Thanksgiving because Grandma was “failin’ fast,” leaving their 8 children behind. The oldest girls, Tilly and Prue, decide to finish the dinner though they had never made a turkey with stuffing before, nor had they ever cooked plum pudding. All doesn’t turn out perfectly (after all, young inexperienced girls in the kitchen can lead to disaster) but at the end of the day, everyone is happy, warm and fed. And the cooks have much to laugh about.

Personal reflection

The Bassetts are certainly the portrait of an ideal family (rather like the more modern-day Cleavers) with all 8 children getting on well with each other. Everyone is happy and healthy. We all know that moments like this were likely few and far between (and still are).

But in this messy, modern world of broken homes, people out of work, threats looming from abroad, and traditional values seemingly trashed, I found “An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving” to be the perfect escapist pleasure.

It doesn’t need analysis nor critique – it’s just meant to be enjoyed.


The copy I have of Aunt Jo’s Scrap-Bag belonged to my mother and dates back to 1929 (with those exquisite 1920s illustrations). As I turned the pages, I thought of my mother turning those same pages while allowing her active imagination to plant her in the midst of the Bassett family and home. She may not be with me anymore but she lives in my heart, my memories, and in her beloved books which now grace my shelves.

You can read “An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving” in its entirety on Google Books.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!



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12 Replies to “An Old-Fashioned Louisa May Alcott Thanksgiving”

  1. Yes, Susan, I have the movie!!! I paid $25 for it as it never goes on sale with the cheapies in the $4.99 bin. Well worth it. I wanted to tell you that I just finished reading Katharine Anthony’s “take” on Louisa and her life and family. It was a most terrific read! I imagine that you liked her overall treatment of Bronson in her narrative. It tells the truth but gives him his due for his genius. I feel so bad that Louisa was so dyspeptic in her ” old age” and actually died of malnutrition as well as all the other maladies. Today it is hard to imagine a well-to-do woman dying at 55 from lupus, dyspepsia, and bad nerves. I also noted the fact that Louisa employed nannies as she really couldn’t take care of Lulu herself, especially with her frequent absences from the family home, because she couldn’t take the noise and so on. And I saw the next-to-last picture of Louisa at Nonquitt, with it being noted how much weight she had lost. I just say “wow, it almost blows my mind.” Another thing that struck me was that in her forties, with all her being “poorly”, there were still nice pictures of her in silk and velvet and she still got around to quite a few events. Anyway, I wish a blessed and Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. Love, Elizabeth P.S. and speaking of Elizabeth, Katharine Anthony’s “take” doesn’t paint Lizzie as being so painfully shy if she was always visiting the neighbors and palying with other kids. You really have your work cut out for you in attempting to fuse the mystery of Lizzie’s character with Beth’s. It’s a conundrum for me at best.

    1. I believe I have solved the mystery of Lizzie/Beth and can peel back a layer to reveal what she was about. Still have to consolidate my research before I write my presentation — I plan on revealing the essence of my research in that paper which I hope to present in Concord at the Barrow (I have a standing invite) and which I will also make available on the blog.

  2. I have a sweet copy of this, Susan. I usually pull off of its shelf before Thanksgiving and had forgotten it this year. Your wonderful post is also a gentle reminder to me to take it out for a read.
    Happy Thanksgiving.

      1. Re: Lizzie and May being tutored by Miss Peabody. Now THAT makes more sense. Taken out of context, “Lizzie and May going to school on Beacon Hill” seems like a poor choice of words, then. And we know that poor choices of words was not something Mrs. Alcott was noted for. By the way, I’m finishing Salyer’s book,on Marmee and then I’m starting “Eden’s Outcasts.” Just can’t get enough…

      2. I am actually just finishing up Eden’s Outcasts. I’ve been nursing that book for 6 years; I loved it so much that I didn’t want it to end so I wouldn’t finish it! But now I am finally on the next-to-last chapter. That book is a feast in so many ways.

  3. Re: Descriptive writing. It’s all they had before TV and movies. Thanks thereto, people know how to set the stage for the stories. But yes, some authors’ descriptive writing is absolutely BORING. Re: The feast of Eden’s Outcasts. I can hardly wait! 😋

  4. Oh, I simply adore “An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving”. It’s charming and quaint, and always makes a good read during November.

    You’re probably aware of it, but there were a couple of movies inspired by this story, which came out a few years ago. I watched them, but I think the story-lines veered too far off the track of LMA’s story. :\

    By the way, if you happen to be interested in a holiday reading challenge, please visit my blog for ‘A Literary Christmas’!

    Have a great week, Susan!

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