An American Festival We Can All Celebrate!

This Thursday my family, in our Derbyshire suburban home, will celebrate Thanksgiving. As we have done for the best part of a decade and a half. We're not American. Neither do we have aspirations to be American. But our friendships with many Americans and our travels around America, particularly in Autumn time, has left us with a love of that fabulous festival of Thanksgiving.

To those not in the US, this might sound a little daft. After all, Thanksgiving is about as American as, well, apple pie. But it is essentially a harvest festival - about which we Brits know plenty. But for our American cousins Thanksgiving has come to represent so much more. Celebrated each year on the fourth Thursday in November it commemorates a feast held in 1621 by the Pilgrims of Plimoth and the Wampanoag native people. Plymouth (as it is now spelled) in Massachusetts is considered
the first independent European settlement on the North American continent and, therefore, its 'hometown'. But really it's a time for family and friends to gather over a meal. It's about nostalgia, about togetherness, about going 'home for the holidays'. And who gets to do Thanksgiving is as political a decision as Christmas is in the UK.   And, for Americans, it has become every bit as big, if not bigger, than Christmas Day. It's conveniently placed mid-way between the sugar-fest of Halloween and the over-indulgence of Christmas. And has the advantage in an officially, if not actually, secular country of being a national celebration that does not rely on a particular religious background. And so, unlike Christmas or Hanukkah (both of which are hugely popular celebrations in the States) Thanksgiving is something for all Americans.

So, if it's so specifically American, why does my family enjoy celebrating it? Well the truth is, the food's delicious! Turkey (or in our case Quorn roast), stuffing and cranberry sauce might seem a little like a British Christmas dinner but there are plenty of American specialities like candied sweet potatoes, creamed onions and green beans with hazelnuts. And then there's pudding - we usually do a blueberry pie, but there are endless possibilities.

And the house decorated for Thanksgiving looks fabulous. Okay, we don't decorate the entire house, but the dining table looks spendid with its wooden turkeys (a bit of vegetarian irony there), pilgrim ornaments, faux pumpkins, golds, oranges, browns and ochres. And, in line with all those wonderful Thanksgiving films, I always seem to be in a rush, either to get home or to make dinner, finding myself half-way across the country at lunchtime, or packing to go away the next day, or even preparing to host a party the following night on countless occasions. Something I would never risk over Christmas. And believe me, I do not do this for authenticity! As much as I love the Steve Martin and John Candy film 'Planes, Trains & Automobiles' I have no wish to recreate it! But the truth is, the rush seems to add to the atmosphere. Or at least that relaxing glass of California chardonnay once dinner is safely in the oven does …

Because we have 'done' Thanksgiving for so many years, it has come to mark the beginning of the 'Holiday' season as much for us as it does for our friends in the US. And it also marks the point where I begin to panic if I don't know what Christmas presents I'm buying. In the US the day after Thanksgiving marks the traditional start of the Christmas shopping. Indeed it was fixed by Franklin D Roosevelt  in order to prolong the Christmas shopping season. Known as Black Friday it is supposed to mark the point in the year when shops finally begin making a profit. So Thanksgiving is every bit as commercialised as Christmas.

But, just like at Christmas, there are plenty of people who choose to observe the traditional origins of Thanksgiving. The original meal was a celebration of a successful harvest, and a show of gratitude towards the Native American Wampanoap people - who helped the pilgrims discover new crops more suitable to the Massachusetts earth than those of their homeland. For many people this expression of gratitude is as much a part of Thanksgiving as the feasting. And there are many reasons this translates well into modern lives After all, no matter how much we may think we're having a bad day, week, month, or even year, there's nearly always something to be thankful for … even if it's only another slice of blueberry pie.