Last week, I experienced something truly and distinctly American: Thanksgiving. Spending Thanksgiving in the US is weirdly exciting for us Brits abroad, as it’s so alien and quaint-seeming (but don’t say that to any Americans, who take it very seriously).
I was lucky enough to spend my Thanksgiving with an American family, who particularly enjoy the holiday and celebrations. Oven schedules were made, controversial topics to avoid pre-determined, and pies galore were baked.
I wasn’t really sure what to think about Thanksgiving before truly experiencing it. To me, Thanksgiving felt like a weekend off and maybe a meal, but that’s about it.
Oh, how wrong I was.
Here are some things I learned about Thanksgiving last week.
- It’s basically Christmas junior.
Thanksgiving is basically Christmas in November. The food is plentiful, the whole family gets together, alcohol is consumed, and awkward topics are discussed. For a month or two leading up to the holiday, Thanksgiving-related paraphernalia is everywhere. Like Christmas decorations, Autumn colours and turkey-patterned bits and bobs are plastered throughout stores. Pumpkins are sold beyond Halloween, and pumpkin flavoured everything exists (did I really need pumpkin spiced soap? Debatable).
- Speaking of pumpkin…
Like Christmas, you have “staple foods.” Pumpkin pie, apple pie, cranberry sauce, cheesecake, turkey… the list goes on, and mostly involves pie and pumpkin. I was told numerous times that Thanksgiving is not really Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie. If you’re intending to study abroad in the US, and want to make friends, give someone a pumpkin pie. Seriously.
My partner cooks while I admire some of the feast
- Americans are exceptionally generous.
Thanksgiving is a time during which Americans are exceptionally kind-hearted. I had so many invitations from people I barely knew to join them for Thanksgiving. I learned that it’s considered quite tragic to spend the break alone, and Thanksgiving is a holiday about inclusivity and love and well, giving thanks. It’s really rather wonderful. My partner lives here in the US, so I spent my Thanksgiving with his family (who also invite people over with nowhere to go for Thanksgiving) – but it was genuinely heartwarming to know that so many people would open up their homes and share their tables with me without hesitation.
Thanksgiving was a lot more formal than I was expecting
- It’s a great time for a break.
While at Leeds, late November can represent a stressful and deadline-ridden period, those of us at American colleges get up to a full week off – and mostly, professors don’t assign extra work. I did nothing for a whole week, and I am not behind. It’s magical, and really gets you ready for your December (yes, no time off to revise) final exams – you aren’t completely burnt out. Plus, you’ve got a few extra pounds to shed if you forget to eat during finals. Disclaimer: I wouldn’t recommend that.
- Actually giving thanks feels great.
I’m one of those people who really appreciates small gestures and can tear up at someone offering me a biscuit. Obviously, I can’t weirdly and profusely thank everyone for literally anything they do. Thanksgiving was great for me with regards to that. I thanked everyone I could wholeheartedly, and it feels really good. Everyone felt appreciated, and it’s a great relationship builder. Trust me.
I pitched in with the cooking
- You’ll get a history lesson.
This will mostly involve someone a fair bit older than you expressing pride over America’s independence and freedom from Britain, which is kind of awkward and not really the purpose of Thanksgiving. But it’s fun.
- You’ll be eating leftovers for a while.
Like Christmas, there’s inevitably an abundance of food left after Thanksgiving. This is good. Very good. Cheesecake and brownie and chocolate coconut cake for 4 days straight? I’m not complaining. What this isn’t so good for is your pre-Christmas diet.
- Black Friday is a really big deal.
People will hit the stores at 4, 5 or 6am. Imagine doing that on Boxing Day, with your Christmas hangover and food coma still fully intact. That’s essentially what you’re dealing with. I didn’t manage to hit the stores, as the festivities lasted fairly late, and we didn’t end up sleeping until 2am. People will ask you on Monday if you went Black Friday shopping often before they ask how your Thanksgiving was, and proceed to discuss the amazing deals they got. I’m sat there thinking “gee, I thought 20% off Amazon at home on Black Friday was the best thing ever.” Turns out, coffee machines for $5 are.
Thanksgiving is a fun and warm holiday, and is definitely something to enjoy when you study abroad in the US. Accept any invitation you get to join a family dinner – you won’t regret it.
And as of Black Friday, Christmas lights and decorates galore lit up the streets of New York. And so, the madness truly begins.
Written by Carys Morley – The College at Brockport, State University of New York, USA