Contemplation, Self-Reflection

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a holiday that made me feel special as a kid.  Because it seemed like we were the only people to celebrate it.

Back then I lived in East London and we would travel to West London to sit down a share Thanksgiving with my father’s family.

My grandfather was New York born and bred. Youngest son of the DA during the Great Depression.  Where he grew up mostly playing in the streets, hanging out with local Italian kids and swimming in the Hudson.

When he came of age, he crossed the Atlantic as a US navy engineer, and met my grand mother, a French Red Cross volunteer at the time, in war torn Paris.

Fast forward to 80s and have settled in Kensington, number 44 Argyle Road. A house which, by time had already witnessed many wild and wonderful comings and goings, and was known among my father’s generation as something of ‘safe house’. Roughly translating to – anyone and everyone is welcome from all walks of life, no matter what tribe, it English elite or Sex Pistol.

Back in days however, unlike today, the UK had not adopted every Americanism. Halloween was barely a thing and these even mc Donald’s was relatively rare. My Grandfather, John B however, drove a left-hand-drive Mustang he’d had shipped over and always kept a crate of Budweisers in the trunk, (which he once had to make shift fire hydrant on over-heated engine.)

So celebrating thanksgiving was a defining activity exclusive to us.

Even then, I understood it to be about my grandfather more than anyone else around the table. It was his special day. I could tell by the unabashed joy expressed in his face. There was not another day like it year. Not his birthday, not Christmas.

Fast forward again I have grown up, and it has been many many years since I had even thought about celebrating thanksgiving.

What with living in France and then living at boarding school, and never really living in the US, or at least never being there in November; my tie to particular holiday must have come loose along the way without me really noticing.

It wasn’t unti finally had children, that suddenly something inexplicable happened, and felt urge to mark the day again. Did want to recreate the same living memories for my own as had been passed on down to me? Whatever it was, it felt urgent.

My grandfather was still alive until 2 years ago, which might explain these feelings. Knowing that time passes, and things lost, makes one think. But all I know it wasn’t a cognitive decision as much as emotional one and I have since celebrated thanksgiving with my own family for many years.

So now we are living in Italy, and this will our first thanksgiving here.

I abstained last year, due to grief. Again not much conscious decision as emotional one. But the genealogical chain had been broken, by both my grandfather and father leaving this world. And my heartbreak over the election results in USA meant was in no mood to be thankful or feel connected.

And even the whole premise of Thanksgiving confuses me.

The meal is essentially a symbolic re-enactment of the feast the native people of America provided the white pilgrims, who were starving and who would have died – had they not been saved by the generous Wampanoag.  I have very painful feelings about it.  As we know the pilgrims and all other white folk who followed, were less than grateful to the native people in the years that followed.  And the genocide that makes up the history of the USA is unforgivable.

In fact, I have a close friend who is 1/8 Cherokee who purposefully fasts on Thanksgiving and I deeply admire her stance.

I too, am guilty of perverting the tradition in my own way. For one thing, there will no turkey or other animal served at our Thanksgiving. My vegetarianism is very much a conscientious life choice that take incredibly seriously. As strive to avoid contributing to more suffering in world. Regardless of government have decreed – Animals are sentient beings!

But I digress.

So in brief, I am torn between my urge to denounce an event on moral grounds and my urge to honour and remember my grandfather and father. Keeping them alive through this ritual.

I foreigner living here and celebrating a holiday that have inherited 2 generations down. I have never officially lived in US, could perceived of cultural appropriation for some. And it probably is some degree. Perhaps I am hijacking a holiday to suit my needs?

The whole process has made think about ideas of tradition and why certain rituals are meaningful. The process of soul searching – have been questioning ideas of culture, of tradition, of national identity. Recent world events have made cringe at very ideas. And what is Anglo-Franco celebrating thanksgiving in Italy actually doing?

Even our guests are mostly non native to land. But here the penultimate Thursday of November again and have organised dinner are inviting friends to join.

We are multicultural by some sort of definition and I admit, it tickles me little, that quite absurd. And in my quest to honour some semblance of authenticity; I decided to look up ‘traditional New York thanksgiving’ on google for inspiration.

But instead, the expected list of blogs by wholesome homestead mothers, writing up their favourite recipes for pumpkin pie and hassleback potatoes… complete with step by step photos and whimsical anecdotes about ‘family values’ and is ‘American living in the free world‘… was list of different fancy restaurants in Manhattan to choose from!

I couldn’t help find this both deeply ironic and most comforting. Ultimately highlighting how being New Yorker is very special kind of American, and to hell with tradition!

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John B, aged 17.
My Grandfather at his last Christmas with us, Angelo, Mark, Rosie and Kieran.

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