Attending university was one of the most exciting times in my life, but in some ways it
was also one of the hardest. It’s very challenging to be away from your family for the
first time ever, especially not knowing if you’ll ever move back home. It both opens a
new and amazing chapter in your life and marks the end of another.
I think that one of the times we’re reminded most of being away from home
and our families is around the holidays, which can make those times very difficult. To
me, the holidays don’t feel quite the same spent away from home, and I’m sure
many feel the same. Luckily though, most of us get to go home for the winter
holidays and celebrate with our loved ones, but there is one holiday in particular that
I know is missed by many students here in St Andrews — Thanksgiving.
Because it isn’t celebrated in Scotland, we don’t get any sort of time off to
travel back home like at American schools, which presents a bit of a challenge. It
also doesn’t help that the holiday is celebrated on different dates each year, making
any potential time off inconsistent. The fact that it is also so late in November this
year, on the 28th puts it at an awkward time in relation to the winter holidays as well.
It’s already difficult to move to a new place. But it’s especially difficult to move
to a new country, in which people don’t celebrate one of the holidays that has been
quintessential in your upbringing. For me, I’m fortunate enough to have half-
American, half-English family members in London so, even though I was moving
across the pond, I was somehow always at ease knowing that I would be able to
celebrate the holiday with family members. That being said, however, this year is the
first that I won’t be going to London to celebrate, so I was a bit more curious (maybe
even nervous?) about what it would actually be like to be in St Andrews for
I talked to some of my friends to get an idea of what it’s like and found an
almost entirely independent and unique event culture that has developed around this
holiday. Unexpectedly, many businesses, like Forgans, BrewCo, the Russell Hotel,
and more, host some form of Thanksgiving celebrations. There is even a
Thanksgiving event sponsored and put on by the university.
For one day a year, Thanksgiving seemingly takes over our little Scottish
town, which is absolutely fascinating to me. Not only are we in a country to which the
holiday is not native, but many of the students also come from all over the world,
most from places in which the holiday is similarly foreign or not-celebrated. And yet,
simply due to the somewhat large population of American students at the university,
an entirely exclusive-to-St Andrews Thanksgiving events culture has formed.
Through various conversations with my friends and peers, I have learned that
almost everyone, even the people who aren’t entirely keen on the holiday, partake in
some form of celebration. Whether people are hosting their own dinner, going to one
at a local business, or to the university sponsored event, people seem to celebrate in
one way or another.
One of my friends from Jersey, like me, has never been to a Thanksgiving
dinner in St Andrews, but seems similarly as intrigued and optimistic about it as I am.
She said, “I’ve never been to one before, so I’m not sure what to expect but I’m
super excited to see what it’s like and to try the food!”. One of my other English
friends even went so far as to passionately state: “I think thanksgiving is cute as f***,
I just think it’s the best!” These two themes of it being both “cute” and a great excuse
to eat good food with your friends were similarly echoed across the conversations I
had and seemed to resonate with most of the people I talked to.
Another one of my friends who doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving back home
made me consider something else about the way that students celebrate, saying that
“it’s always so nice and wholesome; It’s great that everyone tries to cook and
function like actual adults”. While there was a humorous undertone to the last line,
her point did make me think. Saying that students try to function like “actual adults”
for the day, though funny, highlights one of the key things I’ve gathered from hearing
people talk about Thanksgiving celebrations in St Andrews: students really pull
themselves together to pull off some pretty amazing events.
Students gather together, plan their afternoons or evenings, and truly step up
to make the festivities just as nice as they would be back home. It’s pretty cool to me
that twenty-something year olds can make feasts comparable to those put together
by mums, dads, aunts, and uncles with years of experience under their belts.
And even if people aren’t quite that excited for Thanksgiving celebrations, as my
German flatmate and Northern Irish friend weren’t, it’s the fact that most celebrations
are centred around eating a nice big meal that makes more people feel like they can
get on board. “I’m not overly keen,” said my Irish friend, “but my academic wife is
American and is making a big thing of it, so I see it as an excuse to have a big meal
with friends basically”.
I love this comment because it’s kind of really spot on. Though my friend’s
response to St Andrews’ Thanksgiving festivities could seem to be undermining the
holiday itself, I actually think he simply (while perhaps bluntly) captured the essence
of the holiday. Isn’t this kind of why we all celebrate Thanksgiving? To eat some
delicious food with the people we care about? I know that’s a big reason why it’s so
special to me.
There’s something incredibly nostalgic about smelling the cranberry ‘salad’ my
grandma always makes or tasting my aunt’s classic yam casserole topped with
cinnamon sugar and marshmallows. The weird and, or, wonderful foods that you
remember having on this holiday growing up, are so singular and personal to each
individual that celebrates. I’m sure if you asked other Amercians they would have
fond memories of an even bigger variety of either traditional or unconventional
dishes. One of the things that I will always remember from my family Thanksgiving
celebrations as a kid was the canned cranberry sauce that was put out on a plate
every year to remember my late grandpa. It was his favourite, but only if the can
lines were showing, it had to have the lines or it wasn’t good enough for him.
I know that Thanksgiving is rooted in a pretty nasty history of usurpation and
subjugation, but I think that the personal memories of students and the St Andrews
celebrations highlight the beauty of what this holiday can mean. Although it has roots
in religious and cultural traditions, it has long been celebrated as a secular holiday,
one focused around gratitude, around giving thanks. The student celebrations in our
town show the beauty of friends from all over coming together and appreciating one
The way that Thanksgiving is celebrated in St Andrews is also particularly
special because you get to celebrate with all of the important people in your life —
not just the Americans. This year I can’t wait to celebrate Thanksgiving in a new way,
one that’s more centred around an appreciation of your friends while still having
family in your heart!