It’s Thanksgiving Day as I write this, and I am away from home. Not simply away from my homeland, but away from my adopted home in Sussex. We’re on holiday this week in Kirkcudbright (pronounced ca-COO-bree if you can believe it) a small town in south-west Scotland. But at least I have Thanksgiving Day off.
Even though we are in a very rural area—-the landlord told us it is like stepping back into the 1950’s, and he was not far wrong—-we managed to cobble together a respectable Thanksgiving dinner. I have a turkey breast, stuffing, roast potatoes, cranberry sauce, several types of veggies and Bisto gravy. All in all a good effort for very little work.
I mention this because it is significant that having a Thanksgiving dinner over here is not as disappointing as it used to be. Back in Sussex, I could have had creamed corn, yams with marshmallows, rolls, French-cut green beans with almond slivers, corn bread, pumpkin pie and even hot chocolate with a dollop of Marshmallow Fluff in it. (The only thing I still cannot find is that really cheap cranberry sauce in a can that tastes like the inside of a drainpipe—-somehow, the posh and very tasty cranberries in port sauce we picked up in Marks and Spencer’s just don’t say, “Happy Thanksgiving” like a slab of tin-infused purple jelly.)
Years ago, when I tried to pull together a Thanksgiving dinner, I always ended up with a hybrid meal containing dubious substitutions that tasted of disappointment, whereas now it’s fairly easy to create a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with all (well, most) of the trimmings. It’s hardly any fun any more. I blame the Americans.
No, really, you can’t swing a ferret without hitting an American. And where Americans go, they bring America with them—-not that anyone should have anything to say about that, it’s exactly what the British did back when it was their turn to rule the world. But it has taken the challenge out a Thanksgiving. Time was, no one of my acquaintance over here had even heard of the concept of creamed corn (nor could they believe it when I explained it to them) but now you can buy it at Sainsbury’s.
So here I am, 3,000 miles away from America and another 300 miles away from my home and I can still have a nice turkey with stuffing and potatoes and cranberry sauce meal. But that’s where the Thanksgiving similarity ends. All that gets you is a Sunday dinner in the middle of the week. And even if you manage to convince a group of family and friends to come share the day, you’ll merely find yourself sitting around a table, having a Sunday dinner in the middle of the week with a bunch of people who just don’t get it.
Thanksgiving is about food, yes, but it is so much deeper than that, and without having grown up with it, a person cannot grasp the tradition, the meaning, the true spirit of Thanksgiving. Christmas over here is a joy, New Year’s is just about the same and Easter is a bonus. But Thanksgiving—-along with the 4th of July—-remains one of the few times during the year when being an expat really hits home.