A foreigner’s survival guide to Thanksgiving

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Isidore Tillers might be an Aussie, but that won’t stop her celebrating Thanksgiving:  

Thanksgiving obviously isn’t an Australian tradition or holiday but, as my double-bassist boyfriend hails from Albuquerque New Mexico, I’ve been party to a few Thanksgiving celebrations and can offer some tips for getting through this Thursday. First, a bit of history:

Thanksgiving falls on the 4th Thursday of November and is usually celebrated in America, Canada (although earlier) and anywhere else that has had a large enough American (usually military) presence to warrant its celebration. Most Americans trace Thanksgiving to the harvest feast held by the Pilgrims in Plymouth in 1621. The Pilgrims arrived at Cape Cod in 1620 on the ship the Mayflower and their first winter in the New World was so devastating that almost half of their company did not survive it. In contrast, the next Fall the settlement had a successful harvest due to the assistance of Squanto (a Native American originally from Patuxet) who taught them vital agricultural skills. The 1621 feast was attended by both English colonists, and Native Americans from the Wampanoay tribe.

Thanksgiving was apparently commonplace in New England in the 1660s, although the first nationwide holiday was on the 26th of November 1789 that George Washington declared as “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors (sic) of Almighty God.”

These days Thanksgiving has been appropriated by the secularists and is essentially a chance for families to get together, retaining its harvest festival roots in the prevalence of pumpkin pie, and is celebrated by atheists and Christians alike, and this year actually coincides with Hanukkah. Here are some tips if you want to have a good day…

1. Source your turkey early.
It isn’t much fun running around to five different supermarkets in almost sub-zero temperatures trying to locate enough non-frozen birds in time to feed the fifteen guests you have arriving in a couple of hours, as there isn’t time to let the frozen ones de-frost. Trust me.

2. Yes it does really start at 3pm.
I recommend fasting all morning in order to allow enough room for all the food. If you can’t, at least skip lunch and take the necessary steps to prepare mentally for a sugar/turkey-induced food-coma.

thanksgiving 13. Never ask someone to make a pie in a kitchen that isn’t his or her own, or in a share-house.
Pie making is a highly stressful activity that should only be attempted in the safe and familiar surroundings of one’s own kitchen. If you live in a share house, make sure to lock the rest of the household out of the kitchen and surrounding areas for the duration of the pie making. Take extra precautions by clearing off all surface areas, and do not under any circumstances try to engage in conversation with the baker, particularly if they are attempting lemon meringue pie.

4. Let the boys use instructions on how to bake the turkey.
At first I thought the insistence of my first Thanksgiving host that they had to follow the recipe instructions from “The Joy of Cooking” by I.S. Rombauer, M. Rombauer Becker and E. Becker (first published in 1931 by Simon & Schuster, Inc.) rather than just bunging the bird in the oven was slightly odd. However, every American male I have since encountered all have the same 1997 edition of “The Joy of Cooking” and insist rather dogmatically on following the recipe step by step. They also tend to hover in the kitchen discussing the virtues of said book whilst checking out the turkey’s progress.

5. Make the stuffing separately.
Yes, stuffing in my humble Australian opinion was always designed to “stuff” the bird with. Apparently the Americans love it so much that they make an entire baking tray of the stuff extra. Following the recipe from “the Joy of Cooking” of course.

6. Pies are more precious than the pie-maker’s own children.
Especially if they have yet to spawn anything other than a key lime pie. Never come between a man and his pies. One year my bassist insisted on sending a friend to my house to supervise me, sorry help me, escort two of his pies to another friend’s house where we were celebrating. Apparently this was to allow us to follow his one pie, two hands policy. And they were already swathed in an elaborate aluminium foil/toothpicks armour.

7. Pumpkin pie really is the best thing you have ever tasted.
This needs no explanation. Serve with freshly whipped cream.

8. You should probably have American Football playing somewhere on a television at just the right volume to be faintly annoying.

9. Be a good sport and call your parents.
Tell them you managed just fine with your turkey, as luckily you had “the Joy of Cooking” handy, but it wasn’t quite as delicious as your mums.

10. Make sure you’re not too hungover to make it to the “Black Friday” sales.
The worst of consumerism in action, “Black Friday” is much like Boxing Day sales. People camp outside the shops the night before to ensure the best place in the line, and it can get violent. Watch South Park’s “Black Friday” episode for inspiration.



Words by Isidore Tillers