Today is Thanksgiving in the US, the day where people gather to stuff themselves into catatonia and watch American football on Japanese televisions. Today’s topic: Thanksgiving abroad.
In college, I was lucky enough to do a semester abroad my senior year. I went to London for about four months. As a side note, beyond my usual two week panic attack, I felt so at home in that city I seriously considered moving there. But that’s a story for another day. Since I was there over my school’s fall semester, I spent Thanksgiving in London with the rest of the group and our professor.
In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, I was a little sad about missing my family’s traditions – dinner at my cousin’s home and some serious eating. My family does not mess around with food. Go gourmet or go home. I felt bad about leaving my little sister to eat at the kids’ table without me. I didn’t know what Thanksgiving would be like half a world away. Well, more like a quarter of a world away. I didn’t know if England really noticed the last Thursday of November the way Americans do.
We were invited to our professor’s wee adorable flat for what was billed as a ‘traditional Thanksgiving dinner.’ At the appointed time we all arrived. I remember wearing this long black skirt with flowers on it that I had gotten at one of the little shops I’d visited. Our professor had ordered a turkey with all the accompaniments from Harrods and it sat golden and shining on the coffee table when we walked in.
The entire two months I’d been in England had proved that what my guidebook had said was true: The reason the British Empire spread so far and wide was because they were in search of a good meal. The commissary at school served beautiful food…without the taste. I maintained that the English oven was designed to impart heat and extract flavor. Stuff looked great but didn’t have a taste to match, unless we’re talking about the ethnic restaurants which are just gastronomically mind-blowing.
My theory held up with our Thanksgiving feast. How kind of our professor to re-created in some way our experiences from home when we were so far from it. But the turkey, browned to a perfect crisp, was utterly without flavor, as were the carrots and…oh, it was wonderful anyway to be trying something new on a holiday that is mostly the same thing every year.
That morning, the DJ on the radio station I listened to at school wished all the American listeners a happy Thanksgiving which was honestly quite touching. I don’t think Americans wish the English any particular holiday – Happy Guy Fawkes?
By the time we were celebrating Thanksgiving, Princess Diana had been gone for almost three months and we had gone to the funeral, standing outside Buckingham and watching the flag-draped coffin go by. Historic and heartbreaking. We had much to be thankful for on that Thanksgiving day – for being able to come to England at all, for our health and well-being, for all the people across the pond who loved us, for our school who afforded us the chance to study abroad.
That remains the only major holiday I have missed with my family and it was worth it to have that experience. Since then I’ve acquired much more to be thankful for, but I like to remember my holiday abroad.