You can take the American out of America but you can’t take America out of the American. There are some things, like Thanksgiving, that have to be celebrated. So I do.
The First Thanksgiving
Just a quick review here. The first Thanksgiving festivities were in 1621 when the Pilgrims celebrated their first harvest with the local Indians. I don’t believe the exact date is known, but it was probably late September or early November. It must have been a pretty good harvest because It lasted three days and roughly 150 people attended. Wild turkeys were abundant in that area so it is quite feasible that turkey was on the menu, too.
Since then Thanksgiving has been celebrated annually on different dates but it always acknowledged blessings or benefits received. In 1863 president Lincoln declared an official thanksgiving day to be on the last Thursday in November. It stayed that way about 75 years until president Roosevelt declared it to be on the fourth Thursday in November. All of the sudden there was a “Republican Thanksgiving” (Lincoln) and a “Democratic Thanksgiving” (F.D.R.). A couple of years later, in 1941 a law was passed that made Roosevelt’s Thanksgiving a federal holiday.
The Traditional Thanksgiving
What exactly does one do on Thanksgiving? Well, it’s a family celebration so you gather your family around you and basically eat. All day. Lots and lots. The traditional Thanksgiving meal usually consists of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy and vegetables. There are always lots of other things like cranberry sauce and a dessert or two or three among other things. You eat leftovers until about a week before Christmas where (in our home anyway) we had a turkey again. By that time the Christmas turkey is eaten, you are turkeyed-out for until the next Thanksgiving. I believe Americans eat more food on that day than any other.
Of course you watch TV, too. There’s football, football and more football and many parades. Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York is the most famous. It’s also a time to reflect on all the things you are thankful for.
The Friday after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday. It’s like the official opening of the Christmas Season. Many stores open early and close late and there are huge savings. This day is usually the busiest shopping day of the year.
Naturally you knew all this.
A Swiss Thanksgiving
I have some wonderful memories of our many Swiss Thanksgivings. We had to do a tweak here and there but they mostly turned out nicely. The first tweak was we more often than not, moved Thanksgiving to Saturday. Look, if Lincoln and Roosevelt can move the date around, so can I. There is neither football nor parades on TV so we don’t even bother to turn it on. Although Thanksgiving is a family thing we made it a Swiss-friends-thing more than once. So, in essence what we were left with was a Saturday night Thanksgiving meal dinner-party with friends.
Once we invited 10 friends to celebrate. I was planning the event weeks in advance. I made the menu, shopping list and even a cooking list. A cooking list was when I was to make what and on which burner. If you only have 4 burners and one oven you have to know what goes where and when to get everything done at the right time. I planned to start cooking two days before.
I was so excited that time because none of our friends had actually had a “real” Thanksgiving meal. Gosh, I even sent out handmade invitations and my parents sent us jelled cranberry sauce. I made place cards, menu cards and polished our silverware. I went all out, well, the full monty so to say.
I had seen some turkeys in the frozen section at our grocery store and thought I had that covered. I didn’t know that you could and actually should order them in advance. When it came time to buy it I went to the store and to my dismay and total shock there weren’t any left! I went into town and I encountered the same scene the next two shops I went into; no turkeys. I was getting somewhat desperate. Painting pictures of Thanksgiving without a turkey. Luckily the third store did have some (about 4) frozen Butterballs from Virginia. I looked at them all and picked the largest. Whew, I was set. Thanksgiving could come.
While the Butterball was thawing in the sink I made the two desserts: an apple pie and lemon meringue pie. Our family was never big on pumpkin anything so that didn’t show up on the menu. The apartment was starting to smell right. My planning was paying off, I was right on schedule.
On Thanksgiving morning I stuffed the huge turkey with a wonderful ham, pineapple, honey and nut stuffing I had made. I put it on the pan and wanted to put the bird in the oven. Oh my, oh my. It was too big for the oven! [Expletive deleted]!! What was I going to do? My sister-in-law to the rescue. I took a pair of chicken cutters and cut the bird in two and took half downstairs to put in her oven. The rest of the preparation went without a hitch.
Thanksgiving at Last
When our guests came things got hot in our kitchen. I was running downstairs to make sure the turkey there was happy. I was running upstairs, where we had set up the dinner table to be with our guests. In the kitchen I was whipping pots and pans on and off the burners just the way I had planned. The whole apartment along with my sister-in-law’s smelt of turkey and Thanksgiving. Just the way it was supposed to. Then I smelt something else, something was burning.
The potatoes! I had put them into a pressure cooker and forgotten to put water in the darn thing. I had no more potatoes and the stores were closed. I’ve got to admit, there are some very good advantages to having family in the same apartment building. Where would I have been without my sister-in-law yet again? We got them taters peeled, into water this time, cooked and mashed.
The harvest was good that year and lots to be thankful for. The meal was a complete success and we all had a great time. Our Swiss friends enjoyed their first “real” Thanksgiving even though I snuck some Swiss food in there. Like homemade braided bread, Züpfe.
And as tradition dictates, I made more than we could possibly eat in one sitting so we had lots of leftovers. The next day, Sunday we invited family over for a leftover meal. If you are thinking, “What??!! She invited family over for leftovers?” Believe me, it was a grand meal and what was really nice was I wasn’t in the kitchen half as long as I had been the three days before. No stress, easy.
Me? I’m thankful for so many things. Happy Thanksgiving wherever you are and whenever you celebrate it.