First it was trick-or-treat, now it's Thanksgiving. The Americanising of Britain marches on. Supermarkets have just reported a boom in turkey sales, suggesting that thousands of British families sat down last week to a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
That included my family. Traditional stuffing, turkey, pumpkin and pecan pie.
We were the guests of our American neighbours.
And why shouldn't we Brits join in, either with American friends or simply we’ve seen Thanksgiving on Frazier and Friends and like the idea of a turkey feast in these dark November days?
Thanksgiving might be a traditional North American celebration but people who never thought of themselves anything other than English started it.
They were the 44 pioneers who left Plymouth in September 1620 to build a new life in what was called the new World.
Their voyage took two months and when they landed the Pilgrims soon fell victim to starvation and sickness in a harsh New England winter.
By spring nearly half had died. And yet with the help of the local Indians, they rallied and produced a great harvest the following summer. A big local bird, the turkey was hunted and shot and helped save the fragile colony. Three days of feasting were declared, starting on December 13, 1621.
As America grew, states held their own Thanksgiving events. In 1853, President Abraham Lincoln set aside the last Thursday of November as a national Day of Thanksgiving. Canada also celebrate Thanksgiving, but on the second Monday in October.
Thanksgiving is a celebration not only of surviving the elements and helping to create a new nation. It also recalls the thankfulness to the Native Americans who showed them how to farm and hunt. Thanksgiving recipes vary but generally reflect the coming – together of the Pilgrims and the Indians.
The Indian tradition is symbolised with a turkey, cornbread dressing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. The Pilgrims English culture is seen in dishes of sweet peas, yeast rolls, butter and whipped cream.
Once a strictly Christian festival, Thanksgiving has become a holiday for Americans of all faiths and most ethnic backgrounds. Russians, Chinese, Vietmenese, Mexicans and millions more immigrants who arrived hundreds of years after the Pilgrims and don’t even speak English still join in the fun.
But there is a ghost at the feast. Thanksgiving is studiously ignored by many Native Americans who recall bitterly how their friendship to the white man was repaid with land grabbing and genocide as the colononists spread westward. At every Thanksgiving dinner there’s the shiver of guilt about the darker side of America’s past.
And yet the holiday unites more than it divides. Our neighbour’s Thanksgiving was a jolly mix of Jews, Muslims, Christians, Atheists and Agnostics.
We ate, sang, read American poetry and generally put the world to rights. We remembered what an enormous world player the Pilgrims’ little land has become. Those turkeys have a lot to answer for.
<small>[ 11-29-2004, 05:23 PM: Message edited by: lliam ]</small>
I spent 90% of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted - George Best