And on Thor’s Day, we celebrated the First Thanksgiving.
There is no Thanksgiving in Ireland. Nor in most of Europe, from what I can gather. It is not a uniquely American holiday, but there is certainly something very American about Thanksgiving.
Its origins lie in that old chestnut about the Pilgrims and the Indians sitting down together to celebrate being best buds, but we all know that it’s a lot more complicated than that. But no one wants to dwell on the ill-treatment of the Native Americans by our ancestors, so….HEY! FOOTBALL!
We gather together to eat ourselves silly, collapse in front of the TV, then get up and do it all again a few hours later. (In my family, there can often be multiple celebrations to attend in a single day.) And the foods are these weird combination of things that shouldn’t be mixed together, but are, and are delicious. (I still don’t go near 24 Hour Salad, though.)
These are all the standard traditions and ideas of Thanksgiving that everyone mentions in Articles About Thanksgiving, so I won’t try to analyze it any more, because I’m trying to write something unique about the holiday. And this is the interesting part: I gathered together my Irish, English, and Italian gang of friends to celebrate a proper American Thanksgiving, hoping some new insight would be gleaned from their experience as First Timers, but it just confirmed everything that’s already been said about the holiday.
Eat too much? Check. Everyone brought food, and we tried a bit of everything during the three-course meal. (Well, except for the vegetarians.) They all had to go to work the next day, and everyone still seems to be stuffed from the night before, according to their Facebook status updates.
Marvel at the strange foods? Check. I made green bean casserole for them, which they found bizarre before even seeing it. When I took it out of the oven, I was puzzled by how runny it was, and then we realized that over here, their cream of mushroom soup cans aren’t condensed. So no proper thick, gooey, delicious casserole for us, but it was still somewhat edible.
The foods I did get right were Grandma’s cranberry relish, which is served cold, as a nice palate-cleanser. I also made a variation on what we call an “Eagle Brand” pie, which is basically a Key Lime pie, made from graham cracker crust and condensed milk, but is also very, very delicious. And incredibly sweet. I think I gave everyone at the table diabetes last night.
It was all very typical, but at the same time it was one of the best Thanksgivings I’ve ever had. For my entire life, I’ve been an attendant at Thanksgiving, and the other big holiday gatherings like Christmas and Easter. I’m the Bachelor Uncle Guy with the Small Townhouse who doesn’t have to host, or make any food, doesn’t have any signature dishes, just bring a little wine, make a few jokes, then get cranky/lonely/sleepy. It can be rough for the personality when you’re a permanent guest at life’s major celebrations.
But thankfully, for once, last night, I was able to be the host. I got to invite people into my home, carve the turkey, pour the wine, and make the toast. This was Thanksgiving on my terms, and it was an incredible experience.
I don’t mean to come across as selfish or arrogant, mind you. (I’m looking at those previous sentences, with all of the “I”s and “my”s, like I’m a toddler who won’t let anyone else play with the blocks.) My students and actors may be used to seeing me as the Man with the Plan, but in the real world, more often than not I’m just shuffling along, riding in the passenger side of life. It’s what happens when you remain a single guy living within 25 miles of your hometown. You don’t get the chance to create your own traditions.
And so last night, we held the First Thanksgiving, in a small apartment just outside of Dublin. Linus and Arianna brought wine and starters, Elisa made two kinds of potatoes AND made the gravy AND helped me cook the turkey AND made French Onion dip, because she thought it would be something I would like. (No one’s heard of it over here, but Elisa grew up partly in Canada, so she’s able to tap into that North American cultural tradition thing better than the rest. Did I mention the cheesy potatoes?) Ken arrived on his magical transforming bicycle and made dream bars, and Donal and Issy honored the occasion by presenting me with a smallpox blanket and a bottle of whiskey. (It wouldn’t be an Irish Thanksgiving without them poking a little fun at the tragic legacy of the Native Americans.)
I was short on cutlery, had barely enough wine glasses, no proper serving spoons, and we Frankensteined my dining table and my small desk together for the feasting. Linus sat in an office chair and questioned the thick slices of turkey I had carved. (Not sure if I carved them too thick, or if they carve turkey really thin over here.) And I played good American music like Wilco and June Carter Cash and John Prine.
Through the miracle of modern technology we were able to have my family “join us” from Sandwich for a few minutes, and my two worlds briefly became one. And while I haven’t talked about my family too much on this site, I hope they know that I missed them greatly, and I tried to honor them in my own small efforts, with relish and Eagle Brand pie. And I thought about them often.
But for now, I am here, and it is important to stay focused on the here, instead of the “back home.” I’ll be back there soon enough, but I need to enjoy every single moment I can of living in Ireland, because it ain’t gonna last forever. It’s been an incredible journey, in many ways, and for the experiences I’ve had, and the people I’ve shared them with, I am especially grateful on this Thanksgiving Day.
A few more photos…