The first year I lived in the UK I was here with other American students. We lined up at the phones with our phone cards calling home and cooked a sort of Thanksgiving dinner with what we could find in the shops, which meant no pumpkin pie. We all felt a bit lost, unsure, but also a bit rebellious that we weren’t with our families for such a family focused holiday.
My second year in the UK I bought a massive turkey and invited loads of British friends around and cooked the whole meal myself and collapsed in a tearful wreck at the end of the day. It wasn’t Thanksgiving, just a massive meal with guests watching me expectedly throughout as if Something Important might be revealed. I felt very homesick.
How do you share a holiday with people who don’t celebrate it? Sure, there are traditional foods you can serve (and all the ingredients are now readily available), sure there are a few regular routines each family follows, but what would those matter without the shared cultural backdrop to the day? The national holiday, the pause in autumn routine, the shops and television shows all swirling in a fest of reds, oranges, yellows and browns, the schools putting on pilgrim plays where little Native Americans hand ears of corn to little Pilgrim Fathers on stage (no, they don’t cover the bloody side of the shared experience of Europeans settling in the New World), and the countless turkey themed crafts for children, like the old favourite: tracing a line around your hand, colouring it in in turkey colours, taping it to the fridge door.
After the Year of the Massive Feast I didn’t do anything for Thanksgiving for many years apart from call home and listen to everyone else having a good time. Attempting to celebrate it in the UK amongst the British just emphasised how far from home I was...