Britons, it’s time to talk turkey

Britons, it\’s time to talk turkey The US celebration of Thanksgiving is a simple pleasure – unlike Christmas Day, says Cindy Blake

When I came to England 30 years ago, I lamented the fact that there was no Thanksgiving here – that special fourth Thursday in November when families all over America get together without presents but with loved ones, eat turkey and kick back. Size zero is forgotten as monster Sub-Zero American fridges come into their own in a day of wonderful, guilt-free gluttony.

Thanksgiving lunch starts at 2pm and always includes turkey

All Brits have is Christmas Day, but that comes nearly four whole months after the August Bank holiday. What a long time to wait for a break. And when it comes, boy do you suffer. It was clear from my first year here that the British are crazed masochists when it comes to Christmas.

Not only do you have frenzied present-shopping up until Christmas Eve – 288 hours of it, according to yesterday’s survey – but you’re also then expected to wake up at 6am on Christmas Day and start an equally frenzied day of preparation, cooking and cleaning up – over 22 hours, according to that same, eye-watering survey.

Follow that up with the inevitable sulking when present-giving goes wrong – wives glowering at husbands who got the dress size wrong yet again or teenagers in a strop because they didn’t get the latest iPod – and no wonder you want to tip the flaming Christmas pudding over your guests’ heads. Why, I asked an English friend, couldn’t the horror that is Christmas Day be offset by the introduction of Thanksgiving?

At first he said: “We do celebrate Thanksgiving – on the fourth of July, your Independence Day, when we got rid of you Yanks.” He followed that gem of wit by remarking: “Anyway, we do the whole turkey palaver on Christmas – when it should be done.”

I wasn’t convinced then and I’m still not. The British could nominate a day, even borrow our day, and make it a non-religious, gift-free, family-based holiday, centred on food. It could be a traditional British meal of roast beef; or it could be whatever anyone wanted to eat, as long as they all ate it together around the family table.

The joy of Thanksgiving is that it is a multicultural holiday, celebrated by all with no religious significance to cause divisions. Unlike bank holidays, it would have a purpose: reuniting families, without the stress of Christmas.

It’s not a difficult format to copy. Thanksgiving lunch starts around two o’clock and the schedule is very rigid: eat, drink, collapse in front of television. Once collapsed, watch American football; if you’re a man, get out your six-pack. That doesn’t mean taking off your shirt, it means bringing out the beer. American men love Thanksgiving. It’s the only day they are allowed to be macho and sexist. It doesn’t matter what socio-economic bracket they’re in, they swill beer and shout at the TV screen and act like a bunch of British men at a pub.

Everybody eats turkey: this year, the US has produced .2 billion worth of the festive bird. Typical side dishes include a sweet potato mash with marshmallow on top. Don’t ask. And a pureed corn pudding, the main ingredient of which is cream.

No green vegetables are required. If you haven’t had cream of pumpkin soup for starters, you have pumpkin pie with cream for dessert. Or, if you’re seriously traditional, you have Indian pudding for dessert – a molasses and cornmeal porridge served with loads of…. cream.

Deviate at your peril. When I was in Boston last Thanksgiving, my brother decided to branch out from our usual pumpkin soup and start off with oysters. As he was shucking them I told him he should be careful with the knife. I’d forgotten this is Macho Man Day. He threw me a dismissive look, continued shucking, and put the knife straight through his thumb. Still in Alpha Male role, he said he was fine. Five minutes later he passed out, bleeding profusely.

If I go back to Boston for Thanksgiving and stay here in London for Christmas, I get two giant feasts in the space of six weeks, which leaves me reeling. But if I stay here at Thanksgiving and go home for Christmas, I get no feast at all (nobody cares what they eat on Christmas Day), which leaves me depressed.

I did do Thanksgiving lunch here once and the actor Michael York was one of the guests. He passed on the sweet potato marshmallow concoction and kindly said “how interesting” after his only spoonful of Indian pudding.

There are some things not to thank the Pilgrims for, however. Because more Americans travel on Thanksgiving than any other holiday – 25 million passengers alone are expected to fly in the 10 days either side of the holiday weekend this year – I have some not-so-fond memories of being stuck in five-hour traffic jams when I should have been raising my first forkful of turkey.

After you’ve got stuck in a jam, you then get stuck with your family: Thanksgiving is a four-day holiday. Holed up with your nearest and dearest, cabin fever soon sets in. The kids have no new presents to play with. The adults have no new books to read, the husbands no new computer games to absorb them. Tensions run high.

Thank goodness, then, for Friday, or what some detractors have dubbed Black Friday. It’s bonanza Thanksgiving Sale day: stores open at 6am. consumers start lining up at 3am. It’s possible to get a new plasma screen TV for 20 dollars. This is when we Americans revert to type and shoot each other for parking spaces in the malls.

A Thanksgiving Day here would do wonders for the British psyche. You’re already used to queuing and cooking, after all. All the great British chefs could get together to plan a national menu and, in the spirit of the British barbecue, the men could do all the cooking. You could even have a contest for a special celebrity Thanksgiving song-and-dance routine co-hosted by Simon Cowell and Bruce Forsyth, to be screened in place of the Queen’s Speech.

Christmas starts with expectations and ends with overdrafts. But Thanksgiving is pure. It’s all about giving thanks, not waiting to get them.

Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 23/11/2006
SOURCE:-© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2006.


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