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US Traditions in the UK: Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to my US friends! I’m currently watching the Annual Thanksgiving Parade on WGAL courtesy of USTVnow after being stuffed with a traditional Thanksgiving dinner of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, veggies, and cranberry sauce topped off with a slice of pumpkin pie. UK friends when finding out what we were having commented with “kind of like Christmas”, and so the idea for this post was born.

Just about the only thing Thanksgiving has in common with Christmas is perhaps, the turkey and it’s fixings. I always have looked at Christmas as more of a nuclear family kind of thing, as in parents and their children (whether single parents, step-parents, half siblings, etc.) and Thanksgiving was always more of an extended family kind of holiday where you saw aunts, uncles, and cousins you rarely saw.

For many Americans, Thanksgiving is the start of the holiday season as well with Christmas only a few weeks away. Many people use Thanksgiving as the marker for starting their Christmas shopping or for putting up their Christmas trees. Growing up, Thanksgiving always meant a road trip from our home in NJ to my aunt’s house in PA. My aunt and uncle would drive to our house for Thursday dinner, and usually I’d get to go back with them when they left and my parents would follow on Saturday because my family did our big dinner on Sunday.

What is Thanksgiving? There are many stories about the first Thanksgiving, but the one that we are taught in primary school is that the Pilgrims were so grateful for surviving their first year they invited the Indians to a feast. I’m afraid the real story is probably not nearly as romantic or nice. Holding Thanksgiving in November didn’t start until 1863 with a proclamation made by Abraham Lincoln. Thanksgiving continued to be held sometime around the end of November with no set annual date until 1941, when it was decided Thanksgiving will be held on the last Thursday of the month in November. Thanksgiving has been both a religious celebration and a harvest celebration, but in recent years it has become more of a family oriented holiday and a time where you “give thanks” for what you have, and many people give to the less fortunate on Thanksgiving by donating food to local food pantries, or providing meals at a local soup kitchen. I spent several years helping out at my aunt’s church for their annual community dinner.

Even though I now live in the UK, I want to keep some of the American traditions alive. This year, due to Tim’s work schedule and Sunday being my MIL’s birthday, today it was just Tim and I for a noon-time dinner. I’ve been not feeling well lately, so it almost didn’t happen, but I’m glad I pulled it off. It was nice. And now I’m watching the parade and talking to my mom. Who knows? Maybe some day I will get to be in the US for Thanksgiving.

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