Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving Stories

We moved from Canada to Florida nearly two years ago. Last year around this time I wrote the piece found below. The phrase “It IS Thanksgiving Here” is in response to an episode of the podcast Cast On. Cast On is meant to be listened to while knitting (or crocheting or spinning). But this particular episode, called ‘Thanksgiving Special: A Snow Day,’ is not related to the fiber arts. It is instead about a particular day in the life of the show's host, Brenda Dayne. She's an American woman living in Wales who has not celebrated Thanksgiving in years. The reason is, as she says, “It’s not Thanksgiving here and Thanksgiving is not something that can be faked.” With nobody else celebrating, it doesn’t really feel like a holiday, until one day when it suddenly does. It’s a lovely broadcast. I think of it often.

It IS Thanksgiving Here

In the summer of 2001 my husband (then boyfriend) and I moved from Winnipeg to Toronto where I was to begin graduate school. It was a difficult and busy time for us. Once autumn arrived, we realized that our heavy workloads would not allow us to travel to Winnipeg for Canadian Thanksgiving (held on the second weekend of October). We decided to let the holiday go by unnoticed. Unnoticed until the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend when I was overcome with sudden and intense homesickness. I NEEDED to have a Thanksgiving dinner. I NEEDED to have a turkey. We went shopping and left the grocery store with a frozen turkey large enough to feed twenty people (the selection of turkeys remaining in the store had not been great). I defrosted it in the bathtub over night and then cooked it in our tiny kitchen along with all the side dishes that make me feel connected to home. 

I would love to say that we invited everyone we knew and had an amazing dinner surrounded by friends drinking too much wine. But, we didn’t really know anybody in Toronto. We had spent the day cooking a feast for two.

We sat down to a quiet but pleasant dinner. We were happy with our efforts until it came time to deal with the leftovers. We packaged everything up into an insane number of ziplock bags for the freezer. Two months later when we were beyond sick of turkey pot pies, turkey à la king and turkey pad thai, we vowed to never make the same mistake again. 

The following summer we moved out of our apartment and bought an old house on the Danforth (this song and video by the Barenaked Ladies reminds me of that time in our lives and, oddly enough, brings tears to my eyes especially from the bridge at 2 mins 22 sec to the end). We invited everyone we knew to our new home for Thanksgiving that year. Most of the people that we invited had family nearby with whom to spend the holiday. We were left with a small but hearty group of friends whose family lived a long plane-ride away as well as with those few international students who came from countries where “Thanksgiving” is a foreign term. Dinner was great, everyone had a fabulous time, my homesickness was relieved and we were left with very few leftovers. Success!

We held our Toronto Thanksgiving dinner for 7 years, inviting everyone we knew, and slowly over time ended up with a large group of friends sitting down to feast on turkey and pumpkin pie in mid-October. The group of people each year was different depending on who couldn’t travel home for the weekend. The only people who showed up to all of our dinners were K and M, international students from Japan who we now miss sorely. We miss them because we have just had our first non-Canadian Canadian Thanksgiving. This event was held in our new home in Seminole County, Florida. We moved here with our 9 month old son this January for my husband’s dream job. As is our tradition, come October we invited everyone we knew to come over and share our Thanksgiving dinner. Unlike our dinner in Canada where we would invite everyone and get a small-ish group of attendees who didn’t have other plans, this year we had an amazing turn out; almost everyone we invited accepted. Why did they all come? There’s not really a bunch of competing dinner invitations for the second weekend in October in Florida because it’s not a holiday here. I was astonished but ecstatic to be hosting such a large dinner - 45 people (counting children).

It was great...except the hot apple cider out by the pool fell flat since everyone preferred to be within air-conditioned walls drinking something more refreshing. And…well… nobody else really felt or acted like it was a holiday; it was just a fun dinner out for them. I wondered whether we should bother keeping this tradition alive. I just didn’t feel that usual sense of celebration. After that dinner was over and everyone had left, I realized what was wrong. I realized, “It’s NOT Thanksgiving here”.

And now it's November.

 Everywhere I go people say, “oh, if I don’t see you, have a lovely Thanksgiving!” Each time I respond politely and then I sarcastically think to myself, “oh, NOW it’s Thanksgiving here.” I wonder if I will ever be able to enjoy this holiday that is not my own. More importantly, I hope that my son will feel that this day, shared by the whole country, is also for him. My current sarcastic disposition aside, I do think that we will come to love this holiday. My faith comes from my husband’s response to Thanksgiving. Note that he is from a land where “Thanksgiving” is a foreign word: He’s British. His first Thanksgiving was a Canadian Thanksgiving spent with my family in Winnipeg. His second was that lonely holiday which required so many ziplock bags. Despite his limited Thanksgiving experience, he is the one who insisted that we hold a Canadian Thanksgiving dinner this year in Florida and he is the one who was adamant that it include hot apple cider in 90 degree humid heat. To confirm my suspicion that this American holiday could one day be our own, I recall that in mid-October of this year I received an email from my Japanese friend M saying that she misses us and our annual dinner, even though her own background had never involved an autumnal turkey feast. And so, on the fourth Thursday of November, which was previously meaningless to me, I will begin to claim this holiday for myself by putting on my big warm Llika sweater from Jane Ellison’s Mirasol Collection Book Three (this is the sweater that I have named the 'Too-Hot-For-Florida-Sweater') and I will sit by the pool gazing at palm trees and drinking hot apple cider knowing that, even if it doesn’t feel like it to me yet... IS Thanksgiving here.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's recipe: Everyone-Friendly Mulled Apple Cider.

Savor it Seminole!


  1. Funny, touching, memorable short Thanksgiving stories about holiday disasters, family & friends

  2. Thanks! This looks like a great read, perfect for this holiday season.