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16
Nov

Thanksgiving

t is Thanksgiving in the United States, isn’t it? I suppose that means no one is likely to read this, but I’ll write it anyway. Here in Japan, Thanksgiving is even less recognized than Halloween, which is only seen with some scattered store displays and small celebrations by Westerners here in Tokyo.

Sometime between late September and early November in 1621 the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast which is now known as the first Thanksgiving, though it didn’t become an annual event and wasn’t even called a thanksgiving, which would have been considered a religious, not a celebratory event. It is just that needless information that I have crammed in my mind that should have told me that this time of the year was a foolish one to be away from the country I love.

At that so-called first Thanksgiving, the only two items that historians are certain were served are venison and wild fowl. There would have been few vegetables, because of the coming winter and meager techniques for storage, and, without sugar and ovens, none of the basked desserts like pies that we so regularly associate with Thanksgiving. Indeed, it is more likely that lobster, eel or even seal was served, and less chance that anyone was saving room for pumpkin pie, according to Kathleen Curtin, a Food Historian at Massachusetts’s famed Plymouth Plantation.

Still, I think the holiday is more about squeezing around a dinner table with your family, whether you like them or not, and so, I think I’ll end up at the home of a few American friends later tonight, though I don’t expect to have any turkey, a North American fowl.

After a century or more of Thanksgiving-esque holidays during the fall, including a 1623 celebration of a devastating New England drought, the custom of celebrating the year’s harvest gradually took hold in the pre-American state, according to historian James W. Baker. By 1817, New York State had adopted Thanksgiving Day as an annual holiday, followed by many other states by the middle of the century, according to the History Channel’s website. Old Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, before Franklin Delano Roosevelt set in 1939 the fourth Thursday of November as the day soon-to-be synonymous with football and the beginning of the Christmas season.

I find it all fascinating, particularly when I can excitedly spout this out at a non-American who tries to say, as a country of immigrants, we haven’t a consolidated culture and are without, as an English woman once tried to convince me, “a united history.” I am not religious and don’t, for a minute, believe one has to be Christian to be an American, but from October 31 to January 1, I think the United States is at its best. I am an ornery, pessimistic, antisocial crab, but Christmas caroling and family holidays get me mushy inside. I’ve managed to miss a big portion of that season this year. The “Merry Christmas” signs hanging from lamposts in Jiyugaoka and the glimmery holiday displays in storefronts don’t quite do it for me.

See, I’m different. For much of the year, I am as independent and solitarily social as I am capable of being. Anyone who has followed my time through JYA knows this. You’re much more likely to have read a story that involves me taking a train, riding my bicycle, visiting a new place on my own. While most of the other cast members have photo albums full of smiling faces, full of new friends, and visiting family, mine are of landscapes, interrupted by awkward photos I ask strangers to take of me.

The holiday season is, when I am in the United States, a time for me to let down my guard. I transform into a new person, though I have no rational explanation why. All I know is that, as I’ve mentioned in other blogs, I started to hum “White Christmas” and imitate Bing Crosby ever since I flipped my calendar to November.

I will go and have some fun with my friends, let myself take a break from my final papers and my departure preparation, but I know I’ll be thinking of my family and even the friends I have back in the United States.

I suppose in 1621, many of the participants in that first autumn celebration were a lot farther, a lot more removed from what was familiar than I am now. We’ve gotten weak in those four hundred years. I wish everyone a happy and warm Thanksgiving, whether any of you get to read this or not.

Happy Holidays,
Christopher

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