The First Thanksgiving (1912-1915) painted by American Jean Leon Gerome Ferris
The First Thanksgiving (1912-1915) painted by American Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

1621, the Plymouth settlers and the Wampanoag Indians gathered together to celebrate with a harvest feast after a successful growing season. Now in the year 2013, St Andreans of all cultures and nationalities will gather together 28 November to celebrate one of the greatest and most gluttonous of American holidays. Marked by excessive eating and all-day naps to recuperate from this all-day eating, Thanksgiving has always been one of my favourite holidays to celebrate. It has also always been one of the least traditional of holidays I’ve ever celebrated with my family. Growing up living in different countries and celebrating with different people most years, no Thanksgiving has ever been the same for me.

I recall one year not long ago when my adventurous mother decided we should have turducken rather than the standard turkey. For the uninitiated, the word turducken is a portmanteau of turkey, duck, and chicken – the dish was certainly interesting. Other years, under the influence of my Louisianan grandmother, my family has celebrated Thanksgiving with cajun dishes including gumbo and jambalaya. This Thanksgiving my parents are living in London and also have been practicing vegans for the past year, so I probably expect they will be consuming something involving tofu. I won’t say I’m disappointed to be skipping out on that meal this Thanksgiving. My first year at St Andrews, I went home for reading week and since it was close enough to Thanksgiving, I recall having a meal somewhat resembling what a normal American family would eat on the day. Last year, my second year here, was probably one of my favorite Thanksgivings to date. I celebrated in Uni Hall with my now boyfriend and two of our close friends and we made all of the traditional dishes associated with the holiday. It was my first time to ever have cranberry sauce and stuffing, two dishes I now understand the importance of including in any Thanksgiving feast.

The history of Thanksgiving as a national American holiday spans multiple centuries. What we now refer to as the “First Thanksgiving” occurred in 1621, after the pilgrims successfully completed their first harvest in the New World. While by the 1800s most states observed a Thanksgiving holiday, there was at that time no national standard on when the holiday should take place. The writer Sarah J Hale can be credited with lobbying Abraham Lincoln to create Thanksgiving as a national holiday. Looking to unite the nation during the Civil War, Lincoln in 1863 gave his Thanksgiving Proclamation which declared the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day. During his presidency, Franklin D Roosevelt changed the holiday to the third Thursday in November during the years 1939, 1940, and 1941, in order to create a longer Christmas shopping season. These changes were so controversial that Congress passed a joint resolution in 1941 that proclaimed Thanksgiving would occur on the fourth Thursday of November, where it has remained ever since.

The televised presidential turkey pardon is an annual tradition for the first family
The televised presidential turkey pardon is an annual tradition for the first family

Now while the first Thanksgiving spanned a length of three days and was attended by 90 Native Americans and over 50 Pilgrims, I wouldn’t recommend these numbers for your St Andrews feast. Haunted by impending deadlines and internship applications, I’ll probably spend this Thanksgiving holiday with a few close friends, good food, and a few bottles of wine. I would also recommend possibly going for a potluck approach as well to avoid having to cook so much food yourself. Otherwise, you could probably spend all day in your kitchen cooking up all the necessary dishes for a complete feast.

If you’re feeling traditional at all, you could stick to the original menu for your Thanksgiving dinner. The 1621 event included turkey, venison, fish, clams, waterfowl, berries, pumpkin, fruit, squash, and lobster. But if you’re not feeling that extravagant, I would recommend at least having the staple dishes of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes, and green beans or some form of sweet potato. And wine too, don’t forget to have wine. Alcohol is essential if, like me, you tend to be a bit of a bad cook and don’t want people to remember your food – just the good alcohol. Also, make sure you don’t wait until the last minute to purchase the turkey. The sheer amount of Americans in St Andrews pretty much insures the entire town will be turkey-less by the 27th.

All in all, Thanksgiving is such a great holiday and so popular because it’s something almost everyone can get excited about. There’s nothing better than gathering together with friends and showing them how to eat food and give thanks like true Americans do – in large quantities and with absolutely no feelings of shame. So this Thanksgiving holiday, invite all your friends over, American and non-American alike, forget about all of your deadlines and for one night show your thanks simply through the immense amount of food and alcohol you can consume in one sitting.

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