My stories here on this blog usually deal with one of my tiny (mis)adventures living the expat life in exotic climes, but this time I have no story as such, but will offer instead a brief exposition of a fabulous cultural event in America, where I spent many years as an expat. The cultural event I am referring to is called Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving is a big November holiday in the United States, the fourth Thursday of the month. People travel from far and wide to be with their beloved families for the long weekend. They express their gratitude for the blessings in their lives before chowing down a big turkey meal in the middle of the afternoon. At least that is the tradition. The stereotype is that the women spend most of the day toiling in the kitchen and the men lounge around watching a football game on TV and drinking beer. Tradition is a wonderful thing, but this girl-guy thing is a-changing.
My American readers know all this, of course, but if you’re of another persuasion, you might not and therefore find this ramble educational. I learned all about Thanksgiving myself when I first came to the United States. On the history front I learned it was a holiday that commemorates the meal the Pilgrims, aka Puritans, shared in 1621 with the Wampanoag Indians to celebrate the harvest, and the fact that the Puritans had survived their first brutal winter after arriving on the North American continent the year before.
On the food front I eventually learned how to stuff and roast a turkey so people would eat it. And my apple pie is now internationally famous.
One Thanksgiving day while I lived in the US with husband and brood, my mother visited from Holland. She saw me labor over preparing the turkey for the oven and shook her head at me in consternation. “Why don’t you just get a cut-up turkey?” she asked. “You know, it would be so much easier to roast it that way.”
Clearly, she did not get it. In 1621 the Pilgrims did not buy their turkey neatly cut up from the supermarket; they went out and hunted the wild ones and shot them dead with their own hands and guns. So now, almost four centuries later, we must have whole birds; that’s the tradition. (But if you don’t care about tradition, you can get a gargantuan turkey breast and roast that. Or a goose. Or some tofu substance, but really you should be ashamed of yourself. It’s unAmerican.)
Many turkey crises happen all over the country on Thanksgiving day and the turkey emergency help lines are busy taking phone calls from countless panicky cooks. Apparently some people do not realize it takes more than an hour to defrost a 18 pound (8 kilo) frozen turkey, or that if you leave the bird in the oven for ten hours on high heat it is petrified and you can shoot it off in a canon.
The recipes for stuffed roast turkey are many and often sacred, passed on from mother to daughter. The problem is that so many daughters these days only know how to push the buttons on microwave ovens to heat a frozen factory meal and have no clue how to go about messing with a big wet slippery raw fowl. You cannot blame them because they are teachers and doctors and pole dancers and we all know you cannot do or know everything. Fortunately, there’s often a mother or mother-in-law who’ll come to the rescue.
So, if you’re lucky, on Thanksgiving Day you’re sitting at a table graced by a perfectly roasted specimen. This big bird is accompanied by many rich, calorie-laden side dishes, including the much maligned souped-up green bean casserole and the syruped-up sweet potato concoction crowned with (I kid you not) marshmallows. Everybody gorges themselves most shamelessly. It’s a splendid eat fest, trust me.
I am, at the moment of this writing, living again in the US, and I know you can’t wait to hear what I’ve counted as my blessings this Thanksgiving Day. But really now, do you want to sit here for another hour and read all about it? I think not. Let me just head straight for the old trusty cliche and fancy it up for the occasion: My champagne flute bubbleth over.
You’d think, wouldn’t you, that once dinner is consumed (including apple pie, pumpkin pie, etc) and the dishes are washed, the holiday is over. But no, there’s more! There’s Black Friday!
That’s when the the real fun starts: You get up at 2 or 3 in the morning for the Running of the Sales. You drive your car in the dark of night to the shops. You line up at the doors of big shopping emporiums and wait for them to open the doors at 4 am so you can rush in and grab cool merchandise you’re dying to have and can’t live without. And, also, to start your Christmas shopping. Some stores open at 12 midnight, so many people don’t go to bed at all.
It’s true that yesterday, Thanksgiving, you were very grateful for all your abundance, but you also know that you really don’t have enough stuff yet for Total Happiness. So, this being the day of THE BIGGEST SALES OF THE YEAR IN THE USA !! you don’t want anybody to beat you to the Great Deals waiting inside! You may get trampled in the stampede, but the risk is worth it!
Well, if you really think so, I’m not with you. I’m not really with you anywhere near those doors. I’m in bed, peacefully digesting. But that’s just me. I’m not much of a consumer.
Okay, so I keep saying “you” but I don’t really mean YOU over there in Argentina or Zambia or Sweden because you may never even have set foot in the United States and have no plans to do so ever. I mean the universal, generic “you.” I should have been more proper and used the pronoun “one.” Like this: One gets up at an ungodly hour in the morning to do a pushing-and- shoving routine so one can get some cheap stuff one has been craving to possess before others lay their greedy paws on it.
Rest assured that much information is available to assist you in your quest to find what you want: TV commercials, flyers and catalogs in the mailbox and Internet sites posting regular updates on where the best doorbuster deals are to be found. All this to make sure you know at what door you want to park yourself at the wee hours of the morning and to create a festive mass hysteria to help you get in the mood for the next celebration: Christmas.
As I said, I’m not much of a consumer. This is one of the tragedies of living the expat life in countries without big supermarkets and shopping malls: You suffer and learn to do without, and once you’ve adjusted to being deprived, it gets really hard not to be overwhelmed when you look at a selection of seventeen colors or brands of an item and need to choose only one out of that abundance. It’s less stressful not to choose at all and go home and brew yourself a restorative pot of chamomile tea, put your feet up and read a good book. But I digress.
The Friday after Thanksgiving is called, as I mentioned, Black Friday. Sounds a bit sinister to me, but it’s called black because it’s the day the merchants hope to make enough money to get them out of the red and into the black for the year. In bookkeeping terms red means debt, black means not in debt. I’m telling you this because these colors are not universally used. In Italy they prefer a different financial color scheme but I can’t remember which one and I’m too lazy to look it up. Besides I’m sure you don’t care.
Anyway, one way or another, this American holiday is about the abundance of everything, about being grateful for everything, eating everything, buying everything and about sharing your toys with the kids who have nothing.
Here’s where I share mine:
THE HEIFER PROJECT (food)
HABITAT FOR HUMANITY (housing)
NOTHING BUT NETS (health)
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Do any of you have a foreign perspective of the American Thanksgiving holiday? A fun experience? A turkey disaster? Entertain me!