Sunday, December 1, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving (War is Over)

Thanksgiving is one of the major holidays of the year in America.  But what is this strange American ritual that celebrates the planting, renewal and survival of a New England far from England?



On the last Thursday in November the first harvest of the Pilgrims is celebrated by every state and by every American. On that day, every family - black, white, brown, yellow, rich and poor - gather to eat a tasteless banquet of turkey, cranberry sauce, cornbread, green bean casserole, macaroni and cheese, pumpkin pie, sweet potatoes, butternut squash; all the autumn veg and the native dishes that the Pilgrims supposedly had for their dinner on that last Thursday of November way back in Plymouth in 1621.



In fact, Thanksgiving has only been an event since 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln made  "Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens", an annual tradition and a Federal and public holiday. And, like the Gettysburg address, Thanksgiving is 150 years old this year. 



But this period of national observance has not been respected by many a prominent Brit. Earlier this week actor Gary Oldman made his feelings known about Thanksgiving Day with a violent and comic display of emotion on the Jimmy Kimmel show. And vegetarian bore Morrissey, the former lead singer of The Smiths, labelled the holiday "Thankskilling" and slammed President Obama for supporting "the vicious cruel and environmentally irresponsible" slaughter of "45 million birds" this season.   



I don't have any knee-jerked limey gripes about Thanksgiving.  All I have is memories. Ripple dissolve to the Ghost of Thanksgiving Past and my American Dad scouring the naked, proletarian streets of Liverpool and London for a Holy Grail jar of cranberry sauce in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Cranberry sauce was about as exotic as we ever got at our manly fort. We had no time to bake sissy assed pumpkin pie (pumpkins were hard to get in the UK) or exotic sounding "pecan pie", no, we just had roast turkey, cranberry sauce and boots up the ass for dessert.   



The Ghost of Thanksgiving Present -- posted to the USA in 2012 we celebrated our first Thanksgiving with neighbors and colleagues. This was our first proper introduction to "deep fried turkey". I had managed to avoid it at Thanksgiving celebrations in Bangkok from November 2003 to November 2011. Yanks love it and say that it is not as dry as roast turkey ("the meat comes right off the bone"). But preparation can be hazardous for health and safety. The bird is deep fried in the kind of pressure cookers used to contain IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan and because of the high volume of oil that is used fires are not uncommon (best to have an extinguisher on standby). Then, of course, there is the problem of getting rid of all the cooking oil -- down the drain is hazardous and it is best to find a sunless spot to dump this material.  



The Ghost of Thanksgiving Yet to Come -- like last year, next year, and probably every other year in the USA thereafter, I shall be informing Americans that the rest of the world does NOT celebrate Thanksgiving (or Labor Day).  Yes Americans, we are foreign, and we have different holidays to you lot (we also have culture, class, sophistication, a little bit more than a deep fried turkey, know what I mean?)  



Alas, like all holidays in the West, Thanksgiving has a hidden agenda -- a retail one.  In the UK, we have Boxing Day sales (no doubt a Post War American consumer import like supermarkets and malls). In America every holiday event is linked to retail splurge and mindless consumption (there are even Halloween sales).  Thanksgiving's holiday twin is "Black Friday" -- where hordes of Yanks crash malls and stores looking for super deals on items they do not really want or need. This year has been particularly violent. Several scuffles between fat people over fat TV sets have gone viral and shoppers are so demented they have been beating one another up at Walmart over bargain towels



Up until November 2012, I thought Black Friday was an obscure, disbanded, Iranian backed terrorist group based out of Ankara, Turkey. I have been woefully miseducated, clearly.  I wonder what Americans would think about Black Friday if they knew that their retail event of the year shared the same name as a defunct bunch of evil doers? Thankfully, in America, and pretty much everywhere else these days, ignorance is bliss.