Friday, December 4, 2015

Thanksgiving takes place every year on the fourth Thursday of November, and is a huge celebration in the US - noticeably more so even than Christmas.  This year, we were very lucky again to be invited to share Thanksgiving with some friends, and loved experiencing the Big Meal with good company! 

Historically, Thanksgiving is based around family and friends gathering for a meal that commemorates the first Pilgrims, having fled the tyranny of the Church of England, finally making it through their first winter at Plymouth Rock.  However, the first "official" Thanksgiving celebration was proclaimed nationally by George Washington in 1789.  These days it marks the end of Fall and the beginning of the "Holiday Season" in the US.

With a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, the turkey is obviously the star of the show.  Baked, roasted, deep fried (you can buy designated turkey fryers here), or grilled on the barbecue, there are inevitably thousands of recipes on how to cook the perfect turkey (much like the UK at Christmas).

However, the accompaniments are where the real calories start to build up...
- stuffing - very different to the traditional stuffing we know and usually love in the UK, this stuffing is meat-free and often made from cornbread and herbs ('erbs), onions and broth.
- mashed potatoes - blended to a soft puree with lashings of butter (no lumps here)
- gravy (similar but somehow different to UK gravy)
- sweet potatoes or candied yams (yum)

- cranberry sauce (lovely with fresh cranberries and orange peel)
- sweet corn - often served as a creamed corn "casserole"
- green bean casserole (a late 20th century additional which has become a favourite)

- and biscuits (repetitive question: is it a bread roll? is it a scone?)

Desserts are plentiful and generally come in pie form - Pumpkin, Sweet Potato, Pecan - you name it, it will of course be served large with lots of cream!

Allegedly, all these foods were either native to the Americas or were introduced as a new food to the European pilgrims when they arrived.  There is so much delicious food available for the meal that it is unsurprising that Americans supposedly eat more food on Thanksgiving Day than any other all year!  And leftovers are obviously de rigeur.

Other traditions on the day include:
1) The televised Macys Thanksgiving Parade - full of marching bands and parade floats based on themes (and advertising opportunities), with large character balloons and TV and music celebrities.   And Father Christmas arrives at the end of the parade.

2) The all important Ball Game - virtually every level of (American) football, from high school to college to professional games are held on Thanksgiving Day or the following Friday, Saturday or Sunday, a tradition upheld since the 1890s.

And once Thanksgiving itself is over, several other phenomenon automatically occur:

- Almost like the flick of a switch, Christmas seems to "happen" overnight - (AKA Holiday Season) - trees go up (yes, at the end of November, where they will often stay well into February - no 6th January curfew here), houses are decorated inside and out, and Christmas music is played on the radio.

- Shopping Madness - Black Friday stampedes start from at 6pm on Thanksgiving Thursday throughout the night and into Friday, followed by Small Business Saturday and then Cyber Monday - all adding up to shopping nightmares and a sensible decision to avoid malls and town centres at all costs and instead hibernate with Thanksgiving leftovers.

- Hunting Season starts, or more specifically, Deer Rifle Hunting Season - a whole other phenomenon!