The English Husband and I don’t have that many festive traditions, apart from eating fish at Christmas. The holiday decorations are usually bought brand new every single year from somewhere like Woolworths before it went bust. The tree, during one particularly spartan Christmas, didn’t even make an appearance. We don’t go on long walks on Boxing Day with the same group of relatives, or dig out the same grease-stained, hand-written recipes for Christmas Day lunch. Our meals were usually assembled with Waitrose ingredients and whatever recipes we could find on the internet at the last minute. It was then we’d discover that we were missing some sort of critical kitchen appliance or something as simple as an oven-proof dish.
The one tradition I remember having as newlyweds was celebrating Thanksgiving. Being an American, I couldn’t give up on the one holiday I loved above others for its simplicity – sharing a meal with family and friends and giving thanks for what you have. Because the holiday always falls on a Thursday, we’d usually end up with nothing more gastronomically exciting than a store-bought nut roast, some seasonal vegetables and a frozen apple pie. In latter years, this tradition did start to fall by the wayside. Perhaps it was the passing of more than a decade in a country outside the United States or the fact that we’d become parents and slightly overcome by early evening exhaustion, but neither of us could rouse ourselves to cook a meal that required more than two pots on a weeknight.
This year I am finally in the United States for a proper Thanksgiving meal – and I don’t have to lift a finger in the kitchen. Every year, my mother goes to her cousin’s house for a frighteningly large, loud, frenetic family gathering that leaves you thankful that you don’t have to do any washing-up.
The main event
Thanksgiving Day dawns like many of the other mornings of the last four months: my brother is glued to the television and the sofa, wearing a Kappa tracksuit bought in Italy (he wanted me to add in this small geographical detail) in 1999; I am still in my pajamas and it’s nearly 11am, while the kids are upstairs in my mother’s room, mercifully entertained by Sesame Street. I am dragging out my ritual of drinking coffee and glancing at the newspaper delivered to our door. Today, it’s a monstrosity of a paper, but not because of the thrilling, well-written editorial content. No, the paper – wrapped in a huge plastic sleeve and looking a bit like a turkey in its shrink wrap – is weighed down by about 10lbs of magazines and advertisements for Black Friday deals. The first magazine to fall out of the newspaper is Walmart’s, conveniently rolled up right at the front, ahead of the front page. Whatever they paid for this privilege, the megastore will be sure to recoup the horrendous amount they have spent on advertising.
According to Newsweek, there will be 195 million Black Friday shoppers this year, the population of Brazil. Last year, 4.8 million people visited Target’s website on Black Monday, and this year’s Black Friday online sales is expected to top $800m. This kind of shopping is not without its dangers. In 2008, a seasonal Walmart employee was trampled to death by a frenzied horde of shoppers waiting for the store to open; two other people were killed in separate Black Friday incidents that year.
The big American department stores are only too aware of how much money they can make from overtired, sozzled holiday shoppers in a daze from too much turkey, so they have started opening earlier and earlier. Toys ‘R’ Us will open at 9pm on Thanksgiving Day, with Walmart close on its heels at 10pm; Macy’s, Kohl’s and Target will all open at 12am, with Kohl’s staying open for 24 hours on Friday. My 27-year-old cousin – in what is one of her Thanksgiving traditions – is trying to convince me to head to Urban Outfitters at 3am, to take advantage of 50% off all merchandise. I’m still trying to decide whether I should experience this kind of capitalist insanity once in a lifetime – it could make for a good blog entry but it would probably be bad for my soul.
Just back from the family Thanksgiving meal. It was, as expected, a raucous affair with what I would guess was about 40 very loud people speaking in different languages. We had lots of food – traditional Thanksgiving fare that wasn’t bought ready-made. I’m always impressed by people’s efforts in the kitchen, since I can hardly be bothered to make anything more complicated than a salad for dinner most nights. Sometimes I will just settle for some bread and cheese.
My cousin and I have also decided to skip the Urban Outfitters early morning shopping frenzy. This is one experience I figure I could die without ever doing. I think if I was perhaps 10 years younger and with more money, I might have been tempted to try it for a laugh; but I just can’t see the sense of standing outside a store in the freezing cold to buy clothes I don’t really need but simply want because they are cheap. I’d be better off just getting some sleep. I hope the worst fate that befalls any of those early morning shoppers is fighting over a sweater or a seriously discounted television.