One of the blessings of being a Canadian and having strong links with friends in the US is celebrating two Thanksgiving holidays. Two of our long-time friends live in New York City and they regularly invite us to come to their home for the Thanksgiving holiday. They also love to come to Canada to celebrate the Canadian Thanksgiving. We have celebrated Thanksgiving together — barely missing a year — for over 40 years, alternating years in Canada on the 2nd Monday of October and in the US on the 4th Thursday of November. This year the celebration will be in New York and I am excited to be part of the holiday extravaganza in the US.
There are many Thanksgiving traditions in the US that Canada just doesn’t do as well. From my external eyes, US Thanksgiving is a more important holiday than Christmas. It certainly marks the beginning of the Christmas season. Families go to great lengths to celebrate together making the Wednesday before the holiday the busiest travel day of the year especially as it marks the beginning of a four-day weekend.
What began as a harvest celebration got mixed with religious traditions. It has become a time for celebration in the home and a time for giving thanks for what we have. In my eyes, as a visitor to the US, the whole country is transformed into a festive mood for the holiday.
Some of the US Thanksgiving Traditions that I Enjoy
The Macy’s parade is a grand spectacle in New York with floats and marching bands that announce the opening of the Christmas shopping season. I know that I’ll be sitting in a lovely den sipping coffee and discussing the parade as it proceeds on the TV screen. No fighting the crowds or the weather when the big screen allows for slippers and warmth.
Later, in the same den, the TV will be flipped to football games — something that holds less interest for me. However football games are an important tradition for the other gender and I know that my husband and his friend find that watching games together and commenting on the play is an important ritual for Thanksgiving. Indulging the football fanatics and listening to the ‘over-the-top’ sports commentators for one afternoon is a small price for me to pay for being together.
The day will also be filled with eating traditional foods of the holiday: turkey, stuffing, cranberries, ham, yams, potatoes, pumpkin and apple pies. There will be no apologies for abundant consumption as the sumptuous dinner is served by two cooks with culinary reputations that I envy.
Of course, there is also the shopping extravaganza of Black Friday. People seem to fight for parking spaces in malls and even when a spot is secured, walking to the over-crowded stores still provides good exercise. My friend, a veteran New Yorker, knows which stores to visit and makes sure that early Christmas shopping can be finished before the weekend is over.
Counting Your Blessings
Beyond the hoopla of parades, football, eating and shopping, Thanksgiving is also a time to reflect on the blessings of my life. I will give thanks for my family — a husband who loves me and cares for me and our son who has become a wonderful young adult. I will also give thanks for extended family whose lives mean they are scattered around the world.
Friends — old and new — will make the list of blessings for they give support and comfort every day.
I’ll also give thanks for the blessing of good health especially after having a hip replacement last year. Both in the US and in Canada citizens enjoy health care that is the envy of the world with life-saving surgeries and medicines readily available. While our health care systems aren’t perfect and they cost money, they do exist. I will say a special thanks for the new kidney that my nephew recently received at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore — an invaluable gift from his sister.
My thanks will also include the comfortable lifestyle that we live in North America despite the economic angst and turmoil. Our civic society in these two democracies allows freedoms that many people around the world can only dream about. As a visitor to the US, I will honour the power and prestige of America along with its fortitude during a difficult period of its history.
I will also think about the thousands of children in both countries that live in poverty and whose families will depend on food banks for the holiday meal. I’ll also say a quiet word of thanks to those in the Occupy Wall Street movement who have raised the collective awareness in the US, in Canada, and in countries around the world about the disparities between rich and poor. I’ll think of those who don’t share the bounty of Thanksgiving — those who are homeless, those who are wracked with personal debt, and those who are unemployed.
Finally, I’ll look closely at those with whom I spend the day and with whom I share the food, the laughter, and all of the activities that make Thanksgiving special. These are the people who I have chosen to love and who have chosen to love me in return.
And I’ll give thanks — on November 24 — and on every day.