Thanksgiving as a holiday has always fascinated me because as a British person, it’s alien to me. I’ll admit that the first time I ever heard of Thanksgiving was when watching the many Friends episodes which centre around the holiday. Clearly an important American tradition. So this young Brit, with an American boyfriend, just had to take the opportunity to experience this part of their culture and eat a feast the Pilgrims and Native Americans would have been proud of.
1621. Plymouth (the North American one, obviously). Pilgrims and Native Americans. Feuds and the greediness of humankind until finally, they realised the advantages the other could bring and had a feast lasting three days after the harvest. The Wampanoag tribe taught the Pilgrims to catch eel and grow corn and the Pilgrims… what did they do? Let them instead of killed them? I’m a bit cynical over the genuine feelings behind it, whether it was really ever equal. But they both benefited from the situation and that’s better than fighting, therefore something to be thankful for.
Back to 2013, the set up was impressive. A huge turkey, piles of mash potatoes (I was on peeling duty and being watched like a hawk by Alan’s grandmother), stuffing and more pies, cakes and cookies I think I’ve ever seen in one place. Everyone was packed around the table shoulder to shoulder – the kind of messy, bustling family vibe I’m very fond of, as mine is so dynamic itself. People ate, talked, were in giggly hysterics with half not knowing what was going on, went up for seconds, ate some more before accepting defeat.
The mood became more relaxed, and after a walk through the woods with some of the party in some fetching, silly hats we all sank into the sofas with a drink (I tried eggnog for the first time – like an alcoholic milkshake, i.e. thumbs up). We carried on talking until people peeled off to go and rest their heavy heads and bellies.
Leading up to it, I wondered what Thanksgiving was like: was it an excuse to have Christmas dinner a month earlier? From my experience, it was similar to Christmas in that you stuffed your face until you were in your own delirious food coma world and chatted and laughed with family.
I may have been with someone else’s family, but they welcomed me with open arms, a trait I’ve found reasonably consistent amongst the Americans I’ve met. As a general rule, they’re more… openly open. The British are open (and I dislike when people say they’re not), but go about it in a more shy/modest way, as if they don’t want to be too intrusive.
The difference with Christmas is the anticipation of the festive season. With Christmas comes commercialism, and I have yet to experience to what extent America is more so commercialised than Britain, but this is something that disappoints my boyfriend about Christmas. And he’s right – I completely understand and agree that you’d want a holiday to be solely about family, friends and food, rather than what gifts to get people and the stress of that beforehand.
But then that Christmas festive feeling – taking the commercialised SELL SELL SELL aspect out of it – is something I have always been a sucker for. The idea that everyone can be happy and excited, acting like children at the same time around the world is beautifully unifying. Any stress is all worth it in the end.
I’m told there isn’t a ‘Thanksgiving spirit’ the way there’s a ‘Christmas spirit’. I, myself, didn’t feel any Thanksgiving spirit, but that was partly because I was nervous to be spending an important holiday with another family (I needn’t have worried). The spirit essentially was being around the family, everyone bringing food to share as well as their company. Alan says Thanksgiving takes the best parts of Christmas, it hasn’t got the stress or the distractions away from the true meaning.
So I guess this is what Thanksgiving is. It unites America, and that is a wonderful thing. There may not be the fairy lights, trees and culture around mulled wine, markets, Santa and snow which builds the excitement over the month of Christmas (although it does have little Pilgrim/Natives figurines and toy turkeys here and there). But Thanksgiving goes right to the core of what a holiday should be about. Family, friends, appreciation… and a ton of food, obviously.