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Happy Thanksgiving, Mate!

November 26, 2009

Ah, the holiday season… it conjures up similar thoughts every year – family, friends, food and the comforts of home.  For many nationwide, efforts are made to get off work as many days as possible so trips can be planned and flights can be booked to travel back to the hometown that molded you.  It’s like the urge to return to the nest for the holidays is engrained in us – almost instinctive – but what happens when your half way around the world from home when that last Thursday of November arrives?  That’s the situation I faced back in 2005 when I celebrated my Thanksgiving in jolly ol’ London.

At first I dismissed the holiday.  I knew months in advance that I’d be spending my Turkey Day riding the Piccadilly Line to work and running between productions houses in West London’s SoHo District until 5pm without hearing a single “Happy Thanksgiving” from my British counterparts – and I didn’t expect to.  As an American, would you think of wishing a transplanted Brit “Happy Guy Fawkes Day?” … my point exactly.  Back at my flat – a building which housed forty or so college students – there was no chance of an attempt at respectable Thanksgiving dinner coming by way of broke 20-year olds who barely knew how to make Kraft Macaroni & Cheese (however, the Blue Box was not easy to find across the pond so Tesco frozen dinners did the trick instead).  The seemingly end result: a Thanksgiving void of proper food, football games and most notably close family and friends; but, in actuality I ended up experiencing one of the most unique and entertaining Thanksgivings that I can recollect.

The evenings festivities naturally came about.  It began when one of the guys in the flat discovered a local “American style” diner in South Kensington that was owned by the Rolling Stones’ drummer and was serving an “American style” Thanksgiving dinner.  To seal the deal, they were even serving £2 pints of Budweiser.  Such a delicious and timeless American lager could not be refused.  

We bused down High Street Kensington to our destination which could only be described as Hard Rock-lite.  Imagine Applebee’s with a rock ‘n roll twist.  Festively adorned in black and orange decorations with paper mache turkeys and pilgrims, the dozen or so of us sat at a long table in the center of the restaurant along with a family of four in a nearby booth – the only other patrons the entire evening.

Budweisers were immediately served as we glanced over the prix fixe menu that featured the most British version of a Thanksgiving meal I could possibly imagine.  It had everything the average blue-blooded American would normally come to expect – turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberries, etc. – but the English kicker… it all came mixed together in a warm stew!  It could have only been more British had they baked it all in a pie.

As much as it may sound like I’m complaining about the meal, it was actually good.  If anything I just found the whole presentation of the meal to be humorous but I was truly touched by the effort the restaurant’s staff put in to it.  Every time the waiters stopped at the table it was always accompanied with a question about this foreign holiday we were celebrating; Why do we honor it?  How do we normally celebrate it?  But the most warming moment was when the cooks came out from the back to see how they faired with their attempt at a Thanksgiving meal – they wanted our professional opinion on the American classic.  Of course, we told them they nailed it.  Hell, they could’ve missed completely and served pork grinds over a bed of spaghetti covered in peanut butter and we still would’ve complimented them simply because we were so grateful and appreciative of the efforts they put forth to make us feel at home – even if just a little bit – for one night.  It was in this moment that I felt like I rediscovered the importance and significance of Thanksgiving, something that can often get lost in the routine nature of how we celebrate holidays.

As the saying goes, “you don’t know what you got till it’s gone.”  Perhaps that was the case with my 2005 London Thanksgiving as the notable absence of family and friends made me reinvigorated to celebrate the holiday at home the following year.  Or maybe it was the wide eyed wonderment of the restaurant employees who were intrigued by our foreign customs and the joy I felt in sharing the glanced over details and purpose of a holiday we take pride in as Americans.  Whatever it was, that year I gained a new perspective on Thanksgiving and holidays in general, and that is the exact point of traveling.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone and God bless.

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