This week will be a relatively normal week, work 9-5 Mon-Fri, well, when I say ‘work’ I mean in the loosest possible sense, I will be at my desk occasionally, in-between tea breaks, coffee breaks, social rounds, cake rounds, biscuit rounds…how I manage to actually get the time to do some work is beyond me, however, it’s a relatively normal week here for me and for the rest of London Leprechaun land.
However, across the pond it’s a completely different story, it’s Thanksgiving on Thursday (and Black Friday the next day) and everyone’s minds will be focused on that, the great mass of humanity out in their cars trying to get home or to a relative’s house. It’s going to seem strange that I’m at my desk beavering away but all over America nearly everyone is off and hopefully at home with their families and stuffing their faces.
The English here like to think they are superior to America in almost everything, especially culturally but there are one or two things that America (and Canada!) does much better than here in the UK. (OK, there are a lot of things America and Canada do better than here in the UK but I don’t want to get throw out of this country just yet!).
The first thing is Halloween. Halloween over here is pretty much a non-event, it hardly registers but in the States it’s huge and is a chance to bring out your inner slut. I’m deeply deeply jealous of how America does Halloween and wish the UK would at least adopt the same attitude. This year I didn’t even see one carved pumpkin :(
The other thing that America does well is Thanksgiving. We have no equivalent holiday and I think we should adopt Thanksgiving. From what I know of it, it seems to be bigger than Christmas, I assume part of it is because it is a non-religious festival and therefore practically everyone can claim it as their own.
We actually know very little about Thanksgiving on this side of the pond, most folks source of knowledge about Thanksgiving comes solely from the Disney version and not actual historical facts. Consequently we think of Thanksgiving as celebrating the safe arrival of some bible thumping Pilgrim Fathers arriving in America because of religious persecution here in 16th century England. However, it seems that’s not quite true as of the 102 passengers, around 40 were Separatists (i.e., separated from the Church of England), a similar number were regular folks recruited by the London merchants who underwrote the expedition, and the balance were hired men, servants etc. Even the name Pilgrims wasn’t applied to them until a few hundred years later, settlers would have been more appropriate.
When the Pilgrims sailed for America, they hoped to find a place to settle where the farmland would be rich and the climate congenial. Rather unwisely they decided to travel during the coming winter (were there no sailors on the Mayflower??) and found themselves struggling with storms and winds blowing in the wrong direction. Eventually they landed on the stony soil (and harsh winters) of New England, mostly because they had ran out of beer!
That’s one little fact Mr Disney glossed over in his version of the Mayflower but I think it was a mistake, knowing that the Mayflower was packed to the gills with booze would have made at least me much more interested in the story. An entry in the diary of a Mayflower passenger explains the unplanned landing at Plymouth Rock: “We could not now take time for further search…our victuals being much spent, especially our beer…”
That may have been the first and definitely the last time America’s ran short of beer despite their skill at drinking copious amounts of the stuff. They soon learned from their Indian neighbours how to make beer from maize. Local breweries sprouted up throughout the colonies, and experienced brewmasters were recruited from London. By 1770 the American brewing industry was so well established that George Washington argued for a boycott of English beer imports. The Boston Tea Party almost became the Boston Beer Party. Shame!
I found it somewhat surprising that the Mayflower carried so much beer, in fact it was the largest part of the stores and this gives the impression of the Mayflower being the first booze cruise, a tradition that has carried on down to present day. Rather disappointingly it turns out that the Mayflower wasn’t actually packed to the gills with beer because the ship was full of party-goers strutting their funky stuff (although to me that’s an infinitely more desirable image than a ship full of dour Puritans) but because beer, being boiled and processed, tended to keep better than ordinary drinking water and consequently was less prone to give you a jippy tum. What I do wonder is, who all drank it, according to the records everyone drank about a quart each day but did this include the elderly (if any) and children as well, did children drink the beer as a matter of course because it was less likely to be foul.. yes, these things do indeed keep me up at night thinkingzzzzZZ
Anyway, I digress, I had the misfortune to be in the States one year when it was Thanksgiving and no-one warned me about it, it’s a non-event over here in London Leprechaun land and I was trying desperately to find a hotel room but there was no room at the inn, eventually I found a room but it was a close run thing, I thought I was going to have to sleep on a park bench, not a pleasant thought in November.
I’ve never been to anyone’s house on Thanksgiving (but there’s still time darling!), I imagine it’s nice to have all that food and be surrounded by loved ones and the older I get the more important this becomes. Yes, I’m getting soft in my dotage.. I watched Planes, Trains and Automobiles many years ago with Steve Martin and John Candy and the end scene when John Candy was invited to back from the railway station waiting room to share Thanksgiving with Steve’s family struck a chord somewhere deep inside me, it was very poignant and it made me wish we had the same holiday. The movie does have some wonderful lines;
Del: You play with your balls a lot.
Neal: I do NOT play with my balls.
Del: Larry Bird doesn’t do as much ball-handling in one night as you do in an hour!
Neal: Are you trying to start a fight?
Del: No. I’m simply stating a fact. That’s all. You fidget with your nuts a lot.
Neal: You know what’d make me happy?
Del: Another couple of balls, and an extra set of fingers?
Yes, the perfect Thanksgiving movie..
I think perhaps just after I dispose the monarchy here and I am President of the UK I shall make celebrating Thanksgiving my very first decree (along with doing Halloween properly!).
However, one of the traditions America is welcome to keep is Black Friday, we have something similar, it’s on the 26th of December, we call it ‘Boxing Day‘ and it’s the day when we are fed up looking at family members and half of the population here in the UK go to our version of Home Depot ostensibly to think about decorating the home in Spring but really just to get out of the house before we kill someone, the other half of the population hits the stores to return unwanted Christmas presents and is probably the only day in the UK that shops record negative sales figures :)