We're creeping up on the holiday season, which means I get to recycle old material. Here's a bit I did a couple years back. Still holds up and I'm still in the same place.
Happy. . . Thursday?
We’re deep into November now. There’s a bite in the wind and daylight has become scarce. The bowl in the kitchen with all the Halloween sweets is out of chocolate and jellies, down to the chalky bits that no one wants.
November is a slightly homesick time for me. A few years back, I moved from Pennsylvania to Ireland. By now, Ireland is Home, but November is always a time to think of Back Home. This used to be a time for high school football with the marching band soundtrack, of hard frost and dead leaves crunching underfoot, a time for complaining about Christmas displays up too early, just like they were last year. And of course, it’s time for Thanksgiving.
It’s hard to describe to outsiders just why Thanksgiving is such a big deal. There’s no presents, no costumes, no fireworks. It’s just dinner with the extended family, sort of a Christmas dress rehearsal. But it does matter. It’s one of our biggest holidays, and from the outside, it can be hard to see why. We’ll eat some turkey, cart out our family dysfunction for the annual outburst, and fall asleep watching Home Alone on TV. True enough, but it still doesn’t scratch the surface of what the day’s all about.
Every year, my wife suggests that we do Thanksgiving here, and every year I say thanks but no. Thanksgiving is not a holiday that travels well. For me, the day is about community, one of the few things my country does together.
Most days, America doesn’t feel like a single place. California doesn’t have much in common with New York, and less with Kentucky. We’re a nation of subcultures, divided by ethnicity, religion, geography, politics, and personal taste, but Thanksgiving belongs to all of us, and it looks the same in Portland as it does in Boston.
When folks here ask about Thanksgiving, they try to compare it to Christmas, but that comparison just doesn’t hold up. Dinner menus aside, Thanksgiving is not Christmas. Yuletide traditions stateside vary from one state to the next, one town to the next, even one family to the next. When my Irish December doesn’t match up with my own ghosts of Christmas-past, I can adapt without feeling out of place. I’d face the same compromises anywhere, even in my own home town. In this house, we’ve managed to keep traditions from both sides of the Atlantic, even adding a few that are all our own.
That doesn’t work with Thanksgiving. There are no local traditions to integrate. Thanksgiving is exclusively American, and trying to do it on this side of the Atlantic can only remind of a community that doesn’t exist here. Friends and family may wish me “Happy Thanksgiving,” but they aren’t marking the day themselves. They’re off to work, just like me.
My wife asked me again this year, reminding me that our son’s old enough to learn about his American roots. I though about it, but I still said no. For my family to experience Thanksgiving, we will have to visit America. All that I can offer here is turkey dinner on a Thursday.