I loved the very first Thanksgiving I ever experienced. I was living in a dorm (hall of residence) and was staying there over the long weekend. It was the only dorm on campus that catered specifically to international and graduate students, and as such was the only one that did not close for vacations. It emptied out though. Even many of the international students who had no family or friends in the US to visit chose to travel for those few days. A few of us remained behind and we planned a Thanksgiving lunch.
Sometime in the morning we congregated in the area outside the tiny kitchen and started to get our feast ready. We had the most enormous turkey. It would probably have fed 15 or 20 people but there were (to the best of my recollection) only 6 of us, none of whom had ever cooked a turkey before. Somewhere I have a photo of Andy determinedly shoving every last ounce of a very large quantity of stuffing into the bird. It didn't occur to any of us until sometime after lunch that the turkey was not going to be cooked until sometime in the early evening. Ah well - not to worry - we had snacks and beer and we had nowhere else to be! We sat around all day chatting. I seem to remember some homework being finished. In the mid afternoon it began to snow for the first time that winter just as Andy and Sarah headed outside with some scissors and attacked some of the campus evergreens to get some greenery for a centerpiece for the table. I think we even had candles on the table when we finally sat down to eat - strictly against the rules of course, but there was no one around to stop us!
Of course we ended up with enough food for several days, especially as we decided to make soup with the turkey carcass. None of the campus dining rooms was open and it was much more convenient to keep eating turkey than to go out shopping again or go to a restaurant. (Back then I still hadn't mastered the concept of calling for pizza!)
All in all, it was an extremely pleasant day. Some of my later Thanksgivings were not so relaxed. I eventually got fed up of people inviting me over "because you can't be alone on Thanksgiving!" It felt like people who celebrate Christmas not understanding that some people don't and not realizing that because non-Christians don't celebrate Christmas they're really don't care whether they spend the day in a special way or not. I remember choosing to be alone on at least one Thanksgiving because it was just easier. I remember one Thanksgiving spent with other non-Americans and us all laughing together at how all the Americans we knew had been so concerned that we might be on our own on such a 'special' day that meant nothing to us.
Nowadays, I enjoy Thanksgiving again, and not just because we get a couple of days off work! It's also nice to spend time with family, some of whom we don't get to see very often. Although the children never had a chance to meet their great-grandparents, they have a great-aunt and uncle and a great-great aunt who will be spending the day with us. Of course not everyone can make it, and this will be the first Thanksgiving since my mother-in-law died, so we will make a point of thinking of those who are not with us.
I finally understand now the willingness of Americans to open their homes to me at Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is not a religious holiday, but it is an American holiday. It means more to Americans of course than non-Americans, but it's a holiday everyone can enjoy. It's a good excuse to spend extra time with family and friends, to take stock of our lives and of course to be thankful for what we have. This year we made a point of asking a friend of ours who we thought would be on his own if he would like to join us. It wasn't so much that we were horrified that he might be alone on Thanksgiving, but more the attitude that if he wasn't going somewhere else we'd love to spend some extra time with him! Looking back, I'm sure that some of the invitations I received were made with similar motivations that I perhaps misinterpreted. Ah well, that's the nature of cross-cultural communication!
I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving whether you're celebrating it or not. If you're not - take a moment to count your blessings anyway! You don't have to be American to do that, and it's a good thing to do from time to time!
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