I am not what you would call a well-traveled person, but I have had the opportunity to visit the USA on a few occasions. It has always been an exciting and enjoyable trip. I have played the role of the typical tourist on occasion, visiting the places we expect tourists to go. Boston and Alcatraz are two of the most memorable places I’ve seen. However, I have also spent plenty of time away from the big cities, trying to learn a little of what makes America the wonderful place it is.
It has been some time since my last visit. The events of the last 20 months have prevented me from visiting the USA, and I am looking forward to a time that this will be possible once again. When I come, I don’t have a bucket list of things I would like to do. However, there are two ambitions that I still must fulfil. The first is to watch the US Navy’s Blue Angels in action, and the second is to be in America during Thanksgiving.
Maybe it is the result of too many movies but, as a Brit, I have probably built up an idea of Thanksgiving that is not accurate. My imagination includes a vision of a huge family gathering around a table laden with a feast of strange and exotic dishes – exotic at least to my simple British eyes.
One of the exciting things about visiting another country is sampling the food, and I have wonderful memories of the meals I have eaten in America. I have a particular fondness for hush puppies (which I understand to be deep-fried cornbread balls) and clam chowder, and there is a corner store in West Virginia that serves the best chocolate brownies in the Universe.
There is one exception. I cannot bring myself to appreciate biscuits and gravy. Gravy should not be white.
But there are things I have still not tried, and it is Thanksgiving dinner that I am dreaming of most. As I mentioned this time last year, Thanksgiving is something that we don’t celebrate in the UK. We have to wait until Christmas for our big celebration feast, and I started to think about the things we have in common and the differences between us.
As with Thanksgiving, the central dish in a traditional Christmas feast is turkey. I discovered that we have America to thank for this. Turkeys are not native to the UK, but instead were brought here by the Spanish returning from Mexico in the 16th Century. Even then, turkey did not become central to Christmas in the UK until the mid-1800s. I was also surprised to learn that turkey is only a relatively recent addition to Thanksgiving, becoming popular at a similar point in the 19th Century.
But to me, the joy of the Thanksgiving feast is what makes us different, not what we have in common. I’ve never had yams or pumpkin pie. We do have stuffing, but stuffing seems to be one of those dishes that is in the eyes of the beholder. To me, stuffing is breadcrumbs, sage, and onion. To others, it can include meat, fruit or nuts and can mean something quite different.
Despite our differences, food is one of those things that bring us together. Not only is Thanksgiving – or Christmas – a time to be appreciative for what we have, it is a time to help people less fortunate than ourselves, or to try to find common ground with those who have different beliefs. We all need to eat, and there is a simple joy that comes from sharing a meal with others.
And so, as the second Thanksgiving of the COVID era comes around, spend time with the people you cherish. It may be a bad time to be a turkey, but it should be a great time to be with family and friends.
But please leave the gravy off the menu.