This week we celebrated Thanksgiving in New York. I had no idea to expect from this North American holiday. I had been told it was significant, but nothing compares to Christmas in my head…. Right? Kind of wrong.
Thanksgiving was huge. The week leading up to the holiday was like the week before Christmas back home. Supermarkets, food stores and farmers markets overflowing with incredible festive produce from turkeys, to pumpkins, to pies and everything in between. Everyone was stocking up and as we drew closer to the day, people started disappearing from school and the office, as everyone goes home for the holiday (not many people are actually from New York).
I decided to immerse myself in the experience. Despite many locals asking if I would even recognise it, I am all for ‘living like a local’, and, being a resident, I could really sink my teeth into it. A holiday that revolves around food, family and friends is my kind of holiday.
I drew up a menu. Friends would be joining us at our house and I wanted to try many of the local treats I have always heard so much about. Pumpkin pie being one of them.
I picked up the 12-pound turkey from Union Square Farmers Market the day before and learned to ‘brine’ it overnight. Sitting in 2 gallons (8 litres) of water mixed with sugar, salt, molasses and some herbs overnight, is supposed to add flavour and moisture to the bird.
I homemade cranberry sauce, whipped up a pumpkin pie from a recipe I found on one of my favourite local food blogs, made Brussels sprouts with roasted chestnuts and bacon, along with a sweet potato casserole. I didn’t go as far as to make one of their other specialities ‘candied yams’. This is like a sweet potato mixed with brown sugar and butter and topped with marshmallows. I’ll leave you with that image…
What I knew of Thanksgiving involved the Macy’s parade, football and food. And it wasn’t too different. I looked out of our apartment window that morning in Manhattan and found Broadway empty. Not a soul walking or driving down this normally chaotic thoroughfare except for a couple of tourists (they had maps, so it was a pretty good guess).
Everyone was either uptown vying for positions along the famous parade route (which we decided to skip with a 2 year old who has no patience for queuing) or at home with family and friends cooking up a storm.
But the one thing I really enjoyed the most about this holiday? The fact that it is non-commercial (no presents exchanged) and all about giving thanks.
Many households have gratitude jars or thankful plates where guests write down what they are thankful for and share. At my daughter’s preschool all of the kids and their families were invited to add leaves to a cardboard tree, naming what we were grateful for.
And as I sat down at the table, and tucked into the turkey (I highly recommend the brining technique by the way), I realised I was so thankful for the freedom to travel. For the opportunity to be able to sit in New York and experience part of their culture, alongside my family and friends. To share this exciting part of the world with them. To feel welcome.
I have often pinched myself on my travels, and thought about how lucky we are to have these kinds of opportunities. It really hits home when I speak to locals who have never even been outside of their own country and don’t ever envisage an opportunity to do so. The fact that this is possible for my family and I is a privilege.
So this week I gave thanks for this freedom. And I think a little part of me will always ‘give thanks’ at this time of year from now on, no matter where I am. Because these kind of memories travel home and stay with you.