Are you spending Thanksgiving on the far side of the pond? If so, you’ll probably be wondering what it’s all about and, if you’re lucky enough to be invited to a Thanksgiving celebration, how to be the perfect guest. Here we take a look at this uniquely American holiday and pass on some excellent tips from a selection of our favorite US bloggers. If you’re about to experience your first Thanksgiving, here’s what to expect…
What is Thanksgiving about?
The Plymouth Pilgrims were lucky to survive their first winter on American soil – if it hadn’t been for the friendly locals – the Wampanoag people – they would probably have starved and frozen to death. But more than simply surviving, they went on to enjoy a bountiful first harvest and began to thrive in the New World.
To give thanks for the bounty of the land, the Plymouth Pilgrims decided to have a day of celebration. They shot a load of fowl, their indigenous friends turned up with gifts of venison, and everyone had a good time. Each year, since that first celebration, Americans have gathered together with family and friends to give thanks for the good things in life.
How do Americans celebrate Thanksgiving?
More Americans travel home for Thanksgiving than at any other time of the year – it’s bigger than Christmas, and it’s about family, friends, food, and football. If there’s one thing your American friends will not tolerate, it’s the thought of someone they know being left out of the fun. As Jeff Belanger of New England Legends, a fascinating project that chronicles the folk legends of the region, says:
“It’s well-understood that no one should be alone on this day, so merely mentioning in passing around friends or coworkers that you have no Thanksgiving plans will guarantee you an invite by anyone within earshot. So choose wisely where and how you let that information ‘slip’.”
Wise advice – and here’s another little nugget from us: if you’re invited to Thanksgiving, don’t eat breakfast – you’ll need all the room you can muster for third and fourth helpings.
What should I take to Thanksgiving?
No doubt an invitation to share in an American friend’s special family day will leave you scratching your head over what you should bring to show your appreciation. Photographer Josh of California Through my Lens says:
“Bring a pie (pumpkin or pecan are usually popular). You can get one from the store pretty cheap and it is usually something that people enjoy.”
Ingrid Hubbard, writer of the wonderful Live Laugh RV , a blog that gives a tantalising glimpse of the life she enjoys with her husband on the road, agrees. As someone who is often away from home during the holidays, she loves to spend Thanksgiving with RV-ing friends, and never arrives empty-handed. She says: “I’ll always check with the host/hostess ahead of time to see what I can contribute to the holiday meal. Even if I’m told nothing, I still bring a bottle of wine, fresh flowers, and possibly a dessert.”
That’s good advice, and here’s some more. Irene of Getting On Travel who writes informatively for the over 50s luxury travel market points out that Thanksgiving menus are often very traditional family occasions with specific menus to cater for different tastes and food sensitivities. She says: “Since guests may not be privy to the menu, it might be prudent to bring a non-food gift. Fresh flowers, nice chocolates or a bottle of fine wine or liqueur are perfect...”
Fancy cooking a Thanksgiving dish to take with you? Check out What’s Cooking America where, with its cornucopia of authentic American recipes, you’re sure to find just the thing. Our favorite is their Chocolate Pecan Pie.
What’s on the Thanksgiving menu?
Each year, around 1,000 Americans burn their houses down deep fat frying frying their turkeys. But if the idea of frying a whole turkey seems mad to us Brits, just remember, back home we’ve turned battering fish into an art form. Horses for courses, Old Boy! And besides, deep fried turkey happens to be delicious. Other Americans roast their birds or even smoke them – whichever way your host cooks his or her fowl, you’re in for a tasty treat – and the turkey is just the beginning.
Khoi of Gentleman Within, one of our favorite style, fitness, and grooming sites lists just a few of the potential delicacies on offer: “Turkey of course, corn, stuffing, mashed potatoes, ham, green beans, cider, pumpkin pie, and…don’t forget the cranberry sauce.”
Heading down south? Prepare for Thanksgiving Southern-style. Kristy Christiansen, whose off-the-beaten-track Louisiana blog, Getting Lost in Louisiana, says southern Thanksgiving lunch is a potluck affair – the host bakes or fries the turkey, and the guests supply “sweet potato casserole, deviled eggs, green bean casserole, pasta salad, green salad, rolls, etc.” And for an extra special Louisiana welcome, Kristy’s family also makes “a pot of gumbo and a gallon of frozen eggnog daiquiri”. Sounds delicious.
One other thing…Traveling Seniors, friends Stu and Barb, whose excellent blog gives you the lowdown on the hidden gems of America point out that “even families who do not attend church regularly usually say a prayer before eating the Thanksgiving meal.” Michael of Fit Dad Fitness agrees, saying:
“Many families have special prayers they say around the table with their family before they eat. If you’re attending a Thanksgiving dinner and don’t know the prayer, just close your eyes, listen, and enjoy a little window into a tradition many families hold dear to their hearts.”
As a guest, you may possibly be invited to say grace. Make sure you learn a prayer – and keep it short, sweet, and respectful.
What to wear for Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is a family affair, and for some that means relaxed attire, but as a guest, you must never turn up in casual clobber. Not that you would – you’re British. When we asked our American friends for their Thanksgiving wardrobe tips, they were unanimous – smart casual is the way to go. As Khoi from Gentleman Within says:
“Think a button down shirt, knit sweater, scarf, chinos and a pair of brogues. Keep the colors warm to complement nature around us.”
We agree – a Fall palette includes the full spectrum of deep reds, rich browns and vibrant greens; sumptuous colors for chilly days. You might also consider experimenting with texture – try a corduroy jacket or a chunky knit Nordic sweater, and as for those brogues – brown or oxblood work best.
Benjamin from Dapper Professional adds that building flexibility into your wardrobe ensures you’ll stay smart and comfortable all day. He says, “a cardigan and a blazer is a great option since you can take off the blazer if you feel too formal and remove the cardigan if it gets too hot!” Great advice from a man who, as a very dapper marketing consultant, has a wealth of insight into self-presentation.
What happens after lunch?
Not all Americans are avid football fans but, as Nicolas of Quintessential Gent – one of the go-to sites for snappy dressing guys, says – there’s a good chance that “after dinner, everyone typically continues to watch football or plays board games.”
This year, the NFL is offering three viewing options:
- Houston Texans at Detroit Lions
- Washington Football Team at Dallas Cowboys
- Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
We might be able to shed some light on Thanksgiving traditions, but as for the rules of American Football, we haven’t the foggiest. Our advice? Save your questions for the breaks, and have the good grace to support the same team as your hosts!
Above all, enjoy yourself. As we know, Americans are big-hearted and generous people and an invitation to spend Thanksgiving in the company of new friends is a wonderful opportunity to experience American hospitality at its best.