Thoughts on Thanksgiving From Around the World
Each year, on the fourth Thursday of November, families in the United States gather around the dinner table to honor Thanksgiving, a holiday that traces back to a historic celebration at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts. According to History.com, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Native Americans enjoyed an autumn harvest feast in 1621, inspiring the celebration of days of thanksgiving by individual colonies and states for more than 200 years. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln officially declared Thanksgiving Day a national holiday.
Since Thanksgiving is a mostly American holiday (Canadians also celebrate their own Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October), we asked a few of our non-American-born, travel blogger friends to tell us what they thought about their first Thanksgiving experience. Participants included Stacey Kuyf and Bethaney Davies from New Zealand, Australian Sarah-Jane Begonja (now living in Croatia), Brit Tom Bourlet (now in Peru), and Pola Henderson from Poland.
Jetset Extra: What was your first impression of the holiday?
Stacey Kuyf, “Little by Little…One Travels Far”: My first impression of the holiday was it seemed a bit more real and less commercialized than most other American holidays. It’s one of the few holidays where the focus is more on family (and food) than on buying stuff, and I think we all need to stop and be thankful every so often. Of course, Black Friday is another story!
Bethaney Davies, “Flashpacker Family”: Experiencing an American Thanksgiving had been on my bucket list for a few years as it’s such an iconic holiday and unique to North America. We celebrated Thanksgiving with family friends in Albuquerque two years ago. We were very impressed with the level of commitment our host went to for the meal, decorations, and celebration. All the traditional dishes were cooked—some completely new to us, such as pumpkin pie.
Sarah-Jane Begonja, “Chasing the Donkey”: That it was great reason to celebrate in theory, but it seemed as though it was overshadowed by a huge amount of commercialism.
Tom Bourlet, “Spaghetti Traveller”: I was very confused and felt a bit awkward.
Pola Henderson, “Jetting Around”: The first time I celebrated Thanksgiving was in Krakow with my husband and other American expats. At that time (late ’90s), that was a small group, but Polish friends often joined the parties. I remember we had to special-order a whole turkey from a supermarket because the bird was not typically sold in that form. As a vegetarian though, I skipped the turkey and went for potatoes and stuffing. We didn’t have squash or yams, as they were not available in any shops. It’s probably different nowadays, but back then, our celebrations were limited in terms of traditional holiday ingredients. We typically had the feast on the Saturday following Thanksgiving, as we didn’t have Thursdays off.
JSE: Did you enjoy it?
SK: I had the best time on Thanksgiving. I was living in America working as an au pair and was lucky enough to actually be living with Americans so I really got to experience the holiday as Americans do. I had never had pecan or pumpkin pie before; I ate so much all I could do was lie on the couch all afternoon.
BD: The meal was great as is the concept of giving thanks. There were a few strange items on the menu for us, but that’s part of cultural experience.
SJB: Yes, the turkey and trimmings were delightful, and the after-lunch football and family time was really a great addition to our vacation to the USA.
TB: I definitely enjoyed it. Anything to do with celebrations is great to me, but especially when they are based around eating and drinking!
PH: Absolutely! It was a new experience, and I got to learn a lot about American customs. Plus, we had a great time cooking together.
JSE: Did you learn about the history of the holiday? What were your thoughts?
SK: As I was an au pair, my host kids actually taught me a lot about the holiday. I love the idea of celebrating the first meal shared between the Native Americans and the pilgrims, and I found it interesting the Native Americans taught the pilgrims how to survive when they could have easily left them to die of malnutrition.
BD: We didn’t learn anything about the history of Thanksgiving by sitting in with our hosts, but it was a great glimpse into family culture in the US. We met extended family from across the country that travelled to be together as a family for the holiday, which made it special.
SJB: Yes and no. The family told us the basics, but then no one was really sure of dates and facts. I do think the idea of being thankful is one we all should think more about every day, so it was nice one full day was set-aside for it.
TB: I didn’t learn too much about the history, but I know it has a religious background and I’m atheist, so I happily listened to stories but I don’t think too many were shared as to not make me feel a bit weird (maybe, though I’m not sure).
PH: My graduation thesis in Poland was about the culinary heritage of the USA, and I used Thanksgiving dishes to prove American cuisine is not just hamburgers and hot dogs. I enjoy the holiday because the focus is on the food and family/friendship, rather than any religious aspects. Therefore, anyone can celebrate it and customize it according to his or her beliefs. My thesis also explored ethnic and regional influences on the Thanksgiving menu.
JSE: Is there a holiday specific to your country that you think would be fun for a visitor to experience?
SK: I’m from New Zealand and we have a lot of the same holidays as Americans. I think Americans would enjoy celebrating Waitangi Day in New Zealand, which celebrates the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, recognizing Maori (native New Zealanders) ownership of their lands and giving them the same rights as the Pakeha (British settlers).
BD: There are no holidays specific to New Zealand, but celebrating Christmas in the summer is always fun for Northern Hemisphere visitors. We typically eat outside in the sun, visit the beach, or picnic in a botanical garden—very different from a snowy, “traditional” Christmas.
SJB: In Australia, the best day has to be Australia Day, a day for everyone to unite, no matter where you were born, and be grateful to be living in one of the best countries around. It’s in summer so there are plenty of things to do and places to go and celebrate.
TB: I’m not sure if I can count this as a holiday, but we have the cheese-rolling event in Gloucester, which is literally legendary.
PH: All Saints’ Day, celebrated November 1, is when people visit cemeteries and place lit candles on their ancestors’ graves. Cemeteries in Poland are already unique because of the aboveground tombs, but seeing them at night with thousands of candles lit up is an experience a visitor will not soon forget.
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