The shop aisles in Cork will be quiet, unlike the grocery stores in my native America. The English Market won’t have hanging geese on display ready to roast. There will be no special displays, nor clusters of twenty-somethings on their phones asking mom how many cartons of cream she needs. Instead, there will just be the usual smattering of shoppers, quietly selecting routine ingredients. It might be Thanksgiving Day in my heart, but it is just Thursday in Ireland.
Though I go to all the same shops every day of the year, questions about my Americanness don’t seem as prevalent until Thanksgiving week, when I am buying turkey, cranberries, or celery. It is then, when I’m considering ground polenta for cornbread stuffing, that I’m asked about my Americanness. It is as if these questions are saved up all year, just waiting for me to do something typically American, like say ‘awesome’ or bake pumpkin pie. Inevitably, the questions creep from their hiding places and find their voices:
“Is Thanksgiving really bigger than Christmas?”
“What is Thanksgiving about?”
“What sort of foods do you eat on the day?”
“Is Thanksgiving to start the Christmas season?”
“Do shops really open at mad hours for Black Friday and people queue up?”
“And no-one has to go to the office on Thanksgiving?”
“Can anyone use more than one coupon in a purchase, or is it just on ‘extreme couponing’?”
I try to equate it to an Irish holiday of giving thanks, but can only recall the bank holidays, which lack any meaningful story or cultural significance. Fortified by my home country’s historically rich holidays, I’m the first to admit my love of Thanksgiving. The first such feast that gave thanks occurred over three days in autumn, 1621, with the Native Americans. It was an appreciation of the bountiful harvest, for having survived in the New World, and to make friends before the long winter ahead. For all Americans, the trace sentiment remains in our hearts on the fourth Thursday of November. Thanksgiving has one attribute from that first gathering that remains and that is the call to the table. Not in a dinner-bell way, mind you, but the openness of being a nation of immigrants. For all the talk in the news about immigration reform and walls, America is still a warm and welcoming nation, whose doors are open on special holidays to people who do not have local family.
Growing up, our Thanksgiving table in DC was filled with family friends who couldn’t make the trip home for the long weekend. Whether they were tethered by work, school, or uninterested in their own family’s dramas, all were welcome at our table. It was about welcoming anyone to be our family for the day. Perhaps they brought a pie, but it wasn’t expected.
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade glistened on the TV as we sat around planning the roasting, occasionally looking up to admire a three-story tall Snoopy floating through Manhattan. Later, the TV would offer a steady stream of pre-game American football, and post-game programmes, while anyone willing to don an apron was charged with creating a menu that was always filled with comfort foods. If no-one came, we had several invitations to other friends’ homes. To leave a friend without a big family feast on Thanksgiving is sad.
Since moving to Ireland, and being thousands of miles from our own families, we’ve tried every combination of celebrating this holiday, from hosting a meal to dining out. With pangs of longing in my heart for a bigger family around my table, and maybe a wish for a random friend with an extra pie, I still try to make it feel like the Thanksgiving I love. In the early years of being here, I’d search on YouTube for an old parade, and replay an old football game. Even if my oven is too small for a full turkey, a breast or a leg is enough to make it feel properly done. Or, if we’re lucky, there’s an invitation to a fellow expat’s home where there’s a collection of pot-luck dishes from an array of family traditions and we huddle together for the warmth of understanding. It makes more sense that way.
- Evin O’Keeffe’s blog EvinOK.com chronicles her knitting, baking, sewing and daily adventures. Her first book, ‘Bake Knit Sew’ is available at http://anchorandbee.bigcartel.com