Yesterday was my fourth Thanksgiving! It’s an extraordinary time in the US. One of the few occasions that everything shuts, the streets are quiet and friends and family get together to celebrate being alive! It always falls on the fourth Thursday in November and became a Federal holiday in 1863 during the American Civil War when Abraham Lincoln issued a Presidential decree.
Thanksgiving is big in the US. No! It’s massive. It’s actually bigger than Christmas. And yesterday, some of my rather more erudite and intelligent friends explained that the reason for this is that it is entirely non-denominational. I hadn’t really thought about this before. And it’s so obvious once i was told. Christmas is a religious festival, celebrated by countries where Christianity is the predominant faith. My Jewish friends don’t celebrate it as such, but they do get in the holiday spirit by sending holiday cards. And since the US is a giant melting pot of faiths, cultures and beliefs, that’s why Thanksgiving is so powerful. It’s the one day that everyone can get together and give thanks for great friends, family and bountiful food.
In fact, the origin of Thanksgiving seems to be rather contentious. I always thought it was a celebration of a bountiful harvest enabling people to survive the long harsh winter ahead. But according to others it actually has its origins from those early settlers giving thanks for finally reaching dry land after tortuous and painful transatlantic crossings.
One completely bizarre custom that the President has to undertake regards Turkeys. Every year since 1947, the National Turkey Federation has presented the President with live turkeys. He then has it in his gift to proclaim a Presidential pardon for one of them (this has the highest legal executive authority in the US). The turkey that the President choses is then spared death and is sent to a farm to be pampered for for the rest of its life! Crazy yes. Quaint definitely. But lovely to have a tradition like this in, what is, a relatively young country.
To be honest it doesn’t really matter what the origin of the day is. It really is an amazing day and yesterday was no exception. It was truly wonderful to be part of a great American tradition. And it’s better than Christmas in many ways. There’s no pressure to buy presents whatsoever. It’s about food, drink, friends and family.
And in LA, it’s wonderful to be considered family and to have a strong, cohesive social network.