Tapas for Thanksgiving
I am a firm believer in never changing family traditions. Most of these firm beliefs center around Thanksgiving and Christmas. It just isn't Thanksgiving if we don't wake up and drink coffee and watch the Macy's Day Parade. Something feels off if mom isn't yelling over her blowdryer asking if the Giant Schnauzer won the dog show that always follows the parade, and if dad doesn't start googling all the different performers who pass by on floats. There is something comforting about knowing the smell of my favorite mac and cheese, sweet potato casserole, Sister Shubert rolls, deviled eggs, smoked turkey and ham, green beans, and at least one weird fruit salad will be wafting through the house when all the family arrives. And, my mom's dressing. I know that wasn't a complete sentence, but I don't think I can put into words that dressing, so I am not going to try. But it holds a very special place in my heart... and my waist line, where you will also find pumpkin pie.
A couple of weeks ago was Thanksgiving. It was a bit of a weird Thanksgiving for me because I found myself across the Atlantic ocean in the country the pilgrims first fled from. It had potential to be awkward, but for Britain it was just another Thursday.
Several Brits have actually expressed deep concern about me missing Thanksgiving in the weeks that have followed. What I have also found surprising is how much people over here know about Thanksgiving, which left me feeling like a rubbish American as I nod and agree with what they are saying, whilst making mental notes to google some stuff when they walk away. "Why did the pilgrims go to Holland first?" "Why did they leave from Plymouth?" "Who are the Wampanoag Indians?"
I think it is easy for holidays to come and go, your family does their usual thing, you get some days off work, and before you know it you have a few extra pounds around your waist and a new gym membership and the whole cycle of life begins again. But, that cycle was interrupted for me this year. I wasn't with my family, and my mom's dressing was an ocean away. But, in true Thanksgiving fashion, I found myself really thankful for a year unlike all the others. I realized how much about Thanksgiving I just let slip by without actually thinking about it.
But here is my really simplistic whack at trying to think about what Thanksgiving means. The pilgrims arrived in a new land. The first winter was harsh and cold, and half of them didn't make it. They built a relationship with the Wampanoag Indians, who taught them how to grow crops. After the harvest, they gathered with the Wampanoag and gave thanks to God for his sovereignty. For the Puritans, days of thanksgiving were declared after a specific provision of the Lord. It wasn't a set day every year that could be apathetically practiced with little thought. It was specific and responsive, which allowed them to actively search for God's faithfulness at work. When we water it down to turkey and pilgrims and indians and a long wooden table with food, I think we miss the point.
On Thanksgiving, I hopped a train to Plymouth to spend the day exploring the town the Pilgrims first left from. It was a Thanksgiving literally from the other side. After going up in the lighthouse and exploring the harbor, I found a small Mexican tapas restaurant along the water. I ordered some kind of fried fish and spicy potatoes and toasted to myself with a glass of Chardonnay. I loved it for several reasons. First off, whatever was on those potatoes was really good. Secondly, the sun was setting and the ocean was sparkling and my chardonnay was really cold. And lastly, it felt so unlike anything I have ever held dear about Thanksgiving. I had tea that morning instead of coffee, I didn't watch the Rocketts welcome Santa to Macy's, and I still don't know if the Schnauzer won the dog show. I also didn't hear my dad's commentary on different famous people, and I didn't eat any pumpkin pie. What I missed the most were the people who I am normally with, but it had a reverse affect of exponentially increasing my thankfulness for them, and FaceTime.
Plymouth had lots of festivities for Thanksgiving. The Plymouth city choir sang about sailing the ocean, the mayor in her fancy red robe and Captain Hook hat gave a Thanksgiving address recognizing the bravery of the pilgrims. There were also theater performances and poetry readings, topped off with a huge parade through the town with giant lanterns that school children had made. One of my friends drove all the way to Plymouth after work, and we had a pub dinner to finish the night off. It was so un-Thanksgivingish and wonderful.
Since I have been in England, I have experienced more hospitality than I ever thought was possible. In my own (not quite as dramatic way) I am a pilgrim over here on this island. Instead of Indians, there are lots of generous people who have asked me into their home for supper, given me lifts to loads of different places, introduced me to their friends, taught me to stick my hand out for the bus, invited me to their birthday parties and Christmas gatherings, brewed what feels like hundreds of cups of tea for me, and coached me on how to properly top my scone with cream and jam. Many times, all people know about me is that my name is Molly and I am not from England. Before I know it, they have saved my number and invited me to 5 different things. There is no sizing up, no waiting to see what I can offer in return. Instead, I have found pure generosity, given with nothing expected in return.
So, as I sat eating my Mexican tapas and sipping my chardonnay and watching boats come in from sea, I felt a wash of thankfulness for a year that flew in the face of everything I have ever known on Thanksgiving. My hope is that I will always see myself as the pilgrims did back in 1620 when they boarded that little boat in the Plymouth harbor, as a pilgrim not just in a new country, but in this world.
I think we could use a bit more thankfulness in the world, thankfulness that is specific and responsive and generous. And we could use a bit more of my mom's dressing. Why do all these things only have to happen on the fourth Thursday of November? It's silly, really.
Dressing and thankfulness all the days? Sounds like a plan to me.