A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues.
As someone who was born in Australia to a Hungarian migrant family, I'm always curious about traditions celebrated by friends and family living in other parts of the world. Thanksgiving is among the traditions that interests me and is one I would happily embrace (unlike Halloween... call me a 'party pooper', but I've never understood why Australians have jumped onto that bandwagon).
Celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November each year, Thanksgiving is a national feast and holiday that honours the early settlers of the land and their fall or autumn harvest. I love the idea of having a non-religious, non gift-giving, annual holiday where friends and family gather over a sumptuous feast to give thanks and gratitude. From what I can gather, Thanksgiving is more important (and far less commercial) than Christmas. Great! Why aren't Australians following suit on this?
'It's Thanksgiving morning and I am veg-ing in my PJs and having breakfast in front of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade on TV. It's big. A four-day holiday, which is almost the biggest holiday celebrated here. One of the nice guys at work kindly asked us to their place for Thanksgiving dinner,' wrote an Aussie friend spending his first Thanksgiving in the States. 'The dinner was good. There was mashed sweet potato laced with vanilla and marshmallow topping, Brussels sprouts and cranberry sauce, as well as pecan pie and pumpkin pie. We took a pavlova. It was eaten first!' he added. To help with my research for this post, the same friend sent me a link to an interest article from the Washington Post, which gives a short course on the history of eight Thanksgiving foods. [Thank you! ]. ʘ‿ʘ
Another friend, Andy (a.k.a. Bad Ed) from Camarillo, CA also spoke about the Macy's Parade: 'We have a number of Thanksgiving Day parades, the most famous is at Macy's in New York City. For me, Thanksgiving is a time to spend with family, eat tons of good food with leftovers for all for days and days. It's become a tradition to have it at our house for the past ten years. We normally have 25-40 people over. In our home prior to eating we normally gather in a ring holding hands and everyone says a little something about what they are thankful for and then we do a short prayer. So, we actually do give thanks for all our blessings. And let's not forget about the favorite US sport, American football. There are lots of games on TV. In terms of food, the primary dish for us is turkey. We usually cook two, one baked in the oven and one deep fried. As the US is the "melting pot" and we have people from many parts of the world, usually they make a "heritage" dish, such as Lasagna for the Italians. As my wife's family is Mexican my nephew makes Carnitas (pork) along with the turkey. I remember one year we did lobster tails. Not sure if there's any ethnicity to that though! Maine lobster is REALLY GOOD STUFF! Sides for us are usually green salad, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, gravy, cranberry sauce, rolls and/or biscuits, and lots of yummy desserts. Everything is home-made. And there's beer, and tequila too! For me, though, the camaraderie of family is the blessing.' Sounds ever so delicious, Andy!
An eclectic assortment of my treasured food writer friends and fellow cooks from around the world have kindly gathered to share their Thanksgiving memories, stories and recipes with us:
Maureen, who was born in Maine, but now lives in Queensland, shares her memories:
Thanksgiving was a day when the house was filled with relatives and friends. My mother would be up at the crack of dawn baking pies, roasting the turkey and making all the side dishes. My grandmother always made her French pork stuffing the day before, so it would be perfect to put in the bird the next morning. By noon, the guests had arrived and drinks and nibbles were enjoyed, old stories were told and then someone would start singing a song in French and everyone would join in. I could always tell when they were telling dirty jokes, because they were in French. At precisely 2pm, my mother would call everyone to the table (which was filled to capacity with every sort of vegetable side dish and salad and one bare spot in the middle). Once everyone was seated, she'd come in with the turkey on a big platter. We held hands and someone said the blessing and then we went around the table saying what we were most grateful for. There was only one year that there was a change and that was when it was my brother's turn to say grace. "Rubba dub dub, thanks for the grub, yay God." My mother was mortified, he was never asked to say grace again. My father would carve and as he made his first cut, I can almost hear him now, "Thank you, ma'am and if you please, in the ass of the duck you'll find the peas." He said that every Thanksgiving I can remember. Maureen's recipe: Dark chocolate cheesecake with chocolate ganache
El writes from New England:
We don't get caught up in the commercial aspect of the holiday and try to be thankful for our blessings on a daily basis. Our holiday is usually spent preparing a meal that celebrates the final harvest before we transition into a cold winter. It's our way of celebrating the bounty of our region and giving thanks to the local farmers and fishermen who work so hard to bring us fresh, beautiful and sustainable food. El's recipe: Honey pecan banana bread with shaved chocolate
Krista, who was born in Canada, raised in the US and now lives in Queensland, writes:
Thanksgiving was huge in my family. Every year we would invite about 60 people to our house to celebrate. Mum and I would spend an entire week cleaning, cooking, baking, and decorating, setting up long tables so everyone could be together. Folks would stay for hours visiting while children ran around playing their heart's out. Such good memories. Krista's recipe: Cranberry currant butter tarts
Liz in Indianapolis, Indiana explains:
Tradition abounds on our Thanksgiving table. And those traditions have built memories for my family. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie are a given, but other dishes must be present as well. These never change from year to year. My grandmother's overnight fruit salad and this spinach soufflé must grace the table... otherwise the family would revolt! Thanksgiving means quality family time with no agenda. We watch football in front of a roaring fire, eat a hearty meal full of comfort foods and regale each other with stories that ultimately bring laughter. It's a day that reminds us what's truly important. Liz's recipe: Spinach souffle
Heather in Michiana, Michigan says simply:
Thanksgiving means food (and lots of it), family, football, and giving thanks for all of our blessings. Heather's recipe: Roasted spiced applesauce
Susan from the NY metro area has mixed memories about Thanksgiving:
Thanksgiving was always the "gateway" holiday, the kick-off to the agonizingly anticipatory weeks leading up to the real deal: Christmas. It didn't have the lights and largess of late December's frenzy of wildly decorated evergreens; cookies baked by the dozens; carols sung to the highest heavens; and the glittering gifts which would magically appear one-by-one in sync with the daily revealing of the Advent Calendar. It was something of a somber, grey-sky let down, too, after the crazy candy and costumes of Halloween a month before. The trees had dropped their kaleidoscope of colors, and the air was raw without the refreshment of winter's chill on chubby cheeks. I wasn't a fan back then.
But now I look back on those November days with a wistful nostalgia for what it really was, with the hindsight and wisdom that only comes with living long and sometimes with difficulty. I see what I missed, and miss those small, sweet details. The early morning clanking of pots and pans in the making of the herb-high stuffing; the toil of preparing the massive turkey, trussed up to secure that stuffing; the systematically timed rituals of peeling white and sweet potatoes; the snapping of green beans; the rolling of pie crust; and the relieved reality that we, as a poor family, were not going to starve for a full week. Today, as I plan my own menu, the meal is more modest, but the thankfulness and appreciation have grown. There will be a smaller bird, humanely raised; a green bean casserole to please the family I married into; and comforting potatoes. When the meal is done, and we are too stuffed to move, I will go for a long reflective walk. Susan's recipe: Green bean mushroom casserole leftover pot pie
David writes from Tuscon, Arizona:
Thanksgiving is my favorite of all the holidays we celebrate - above Christmas, birthdays, Easter, the New Year, even Groundhog Day. I love that Thanksgiving is about food (that is a no-brainer) but the thing I love most is that it is about gratefulness, giving, and family. I am ever truly grateful for all that I have - my home, my family, the food I eat, my job, my freedom. It is, for me, a time remember the importance of giving - not that we should give to others only at Thanksgiving, but it is a good time think about all those who are less fortunate, and to share out wealth... and then continue to share it year-round. Being with family on Thanksgiving is truly important to me. Mark, of course, is at the top of my list. How lucky are we two to be able to celebrate our family without fear of recrimination, with the acceptance of our community. Talk about grateful! This year, I will be with my eldest brother and three generations of his family. It is the first year in many that we haven't celebrated with our family of choice - the friends we turn to in happiness and sadness. They are the family we choose - above all others. Finally, I have a virtual family - my invisible friends. My blog family. I hope someday we do meet, but I like knowing you are there, Liz. I am grateful for you, your friendship, and for that of my other blog friends around the world. [That is so kind, David, thank you. I feel the same about your friendship too xo]. David's recipe: Penny candy apple pie
Azita, an Iranian-born American shares her story:
We have celebrated Thanksgiving since the very year we arrived in the U.S. and in fact my mom, from the beginning, took pains to create an authentic and elaborate meal modelled after the classic standard menu of Turkey with stuffing, and pumpkin pie and all the sides... but she also added her own special touch to all of it as well. Thanksgiving is a holiday that unites nearly all Americans. A day when we gather togetherto give thanks. It is centered around food, family and gratitude, which makes is extra meaningful and special. As such it is even more poignant for immigrants and hyphenated Americans, because it's an occasion to really participate in a national event and feel that it is one that truly does include you. Azita's recipe: Persian-style stuffed peppers and scenes from Thanksgiving 2013.
Thank you friends for taking the time to share your Thanksgiving memories, stories and recipes. If I were to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family here in Australia, I think my Pumpkin strudel would be on the menu without question.
In closing, I'd like to wish you all a happy Thanksgiving and share some sage words on the topic from the late President John F. Kennedy: 'As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.' ❤
Tell me dear readers, how do you spend Thanksgiving? What are your fondest memories? And for my readers who are regions that do not celebrate this holiday, would you welcome the addition of Thanksgiving to the calendar in your part of the world?
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.