Growing up in Europe I’d never given much thought to Thanksgiving, except as an American holiday at the end of November. I knew it commemorated the pilgrims first year of survival in the New World and that was about it.
Until we immigrated to New Orleans, USA and our first Thanksgiving was a revelation.
In my superior British way, I assumed this was an American excuse for a fun time, shopping and good television. After all, this was a young, brash, in-your-face-country which couldn’t hold a candle to Europe when it came to tradition, spectacle, and sophisticated understatement.
Oh how I’d misjudged this purest of national celebrations.
We spent our first Thanksgiving with business colleagues of the Captain who’d generously invited us to share the day with them and their extended family. As Thanksgiving approached the nation went into overdrive and we sensed this was a bigger deal than we’d imagined.
Christmas trees were appearing everywhere (one notable local family had their 15 foot Christmas tree dressed and in their 2-story foyer at Halloween), along with exterior lights and decorations. The only comparable reference I had was Oxford Street in London, at the annual switching on of the Christmas lights. I was seriously worried about the ability of the national grid to handle the load. We hadn’t realised the Christmas season started at Thanksgiving.
Culture shocked we arrived at our hosts on Thanksgiving Day and were immediately assaulted by glorious aromas wafting from a crowded kitchen loud with boisterous chatter and good natured laughter. This was not a typical Deep South Thanksgiving (we later realised) but a New York Jewish one, with all the noise and chaos that entailed.
The women chatted in the heat of the kitchen, while the men passed considered opinions on the big game watching the pre-match analysis on the television. An assortment of children from toddlers to pre-teens were chasing round the good humoured adults, while the older teens had removed themselves to another room to play pool, laughing, joshing and flirting with each other.
By the time we sat down for dinner the last thing we wanted was food. From the moment we’d arrived there had been a constant supply of delicious appetizers to tempt every sense and we knew it would have been ungracious to refuse. By the time the meal was over everyone was ready to explode and lie in a darkened room until the nausea of over indulgence subsided.
We left pretty soon afterwards feeling, as only brits can, that our hosts may appreciate some time with their immediate family. In reality they probably thought we were rude and churlish for leaving before the end of the day, such is the warmth and welcoming nature of every American I’ve ever met.
From our current perspective as British naturalized Americans it has been wonderful to appreciate how deeply ingrained Thanksgiving is in the American psyche.
America is a welcoming nation; whatever your opinion on the global and national politics of the country its people have huge hearts and great generosity of spirit. They are curious, enthusiastic and embracing.
One day a year a melting pot of nationalities, cultures, colors and religions celebrate together. Of course it’s not easy, but America observes a tradition that transcends race, color, creed and politics, with everybody bringing something of their own to the table.
Thanksgiving celebrates life and shared humanity. Whatever our backgrounds or ethnic origins we all want the best for our families and the freedom to live and worship in the way we choose. It has a purity at its core which is sometimes lost in the hurly burly of everyday life. It allows us to focus on family, friends and sharing food, acknowledging two of our most basic needs – companionship and sustenance.
So to our friends and family all over the globe, whatever country you’re in, whoever you’re sharing the day with, safe travels and have a happy, reflective, Thanksgiving.