Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving in Paris

After nine years here, Thanksgiving in France for me is finally just another Thursday.  Today I managed to go to work, go for a run at lunch, eat a less appetizing than usual meal in the cafeteria, then come home and make pasta for dinner without feeling like I should be frantically preparing a turkey or dozing on the couch in front of the Macy's parade instead.*  

This is actually new.

Thanksgiving is more exceptional even than Christmas in the US because everyone has a reason, or finds a reason, to celebrate.  With so little in common otherwise, we all eat the same meal on the same day -- turkey, or turkey-inspired tofu, or something with squash.  And most everyone has a whole four days off in a row, which in itself is remarkable in an otherwise vacation-starved country.  For years, not having this special episode at the end of November felt strange and unnatural.  

My husband's company's CEO sent out a cheesy Thanksgiving e-mail, either ignorant or deliberately ignoring that most of the world has no idea what it's all about.  A time for reflection, he claimed, but he didn't reflect that his company is a large multinational company... based in Europe. Not that anyone did more than shrug, I'm sure.

I helped throw a small party at my office in honor of Thanksgiving and (informally) to celebrate Obama's victory.  A colleague of mine wanted to celebrate his recent full-time hiring, so we co-hosted a lunch earlier this week. I made pumpkin muffins and wild rice and cranberry salad, and I stayed up until one a.m. preparing it all. He brought Moroccan pastries, carried back from his weekend trip home to Casablanca.  We bought cheese, meats, fruit, pretzels, sparkling wine, orange juice, and spread it all out in the middle of the open space.  The whole floor came, at least thirty or forty people.  It felt sort of subversive, this Thanksgiving-hiring-left-wing-victory lunch, with Halal meats for some and Spanish Cava for others, thrown by two proud immigrants.

"Joyeux Thanksgiving!" I was wished repeatedly, then asked what exactly Thanksgiving was all about.  "Thank you, thank you!" many said earnestly and exaggeratedly, figuring the thanking was the key part.  

"It's an entirely invented holiday -- une fête créée de toute pièce," I explained, happy that my authority wouldn't be questioned, "But they teach us this stuff about les colons et les indiens." 
Though I hadn't thought about it in years, I then pictured my kindergarten class with our construction paper costumes, little paper feather headdresses and rigid white bonnets.  The story seemed so unquestionably true back then, and universal.  

Now here I was, in France, explaining to a gathering of amused colleagues that no, it wasn't the salad but the rice that was sauvage, that it was not really rice at all in fact, and that no, it probably wasn't GMO.

"En tout cas, c'est bon."  The salad disappeared but for a few grains, and the muffins were devoured as well.  A few asked why I didn't bring a turkey.

That's what I like best about Thanksgiving: that everyone takes it and turns it into what they want.  Sure, within a family one is often irritatingly constrained by tradition.  There's the side dish that no one eats year after year, the football game that no one wants to watch, the feeling that if you deviate from the script you'll be cheating or offending someone.  But on the scale of the whole country, this most national holiday is really whatever you want to make it.  That's what I love about it, and that's why I still consider it mine.

Even when it's just another Thursday in November.

*We're actually going to celebrate properly this weekend with another French-American couple and their two kids.  They're making a turkey and I'm making a pumpkin pie. 


Cloud said...

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I host it every year, usually with help from my mom and my sister. My kids are too little to really get it yet, although Pumpkin (now a Kindergartner) has been indoctrinated into the paper bag American Indian attire. Petunia (who is 3) kept asking if it was "Thank You Day".

Happy Thanksgiving!

Claudia said...

I couldn't answer earlier, due to not having any Thanksgiving plans at the time. I've since found a free place in the month of December to hold it, so I can talk about it now (overly dramatization of how I actually feel, but I was bummed).

It's something I sort of need to do. I love it about as much as Halloween, which is to say, a lot. Next year I will be far more proactive about getting it scheduled in time before everyone's swamped with the Christmas party phenomenon known as Julefrokost (Christmas Lunch, which is rarely in the daytime), an event that far too many people throw. It just means you eat nearly the exact same menu (that's Denmark for you) over and over all November, December and often into January (see part about far too many people hosting these things).
I currently have Martha Stewart's cranberry chutney bubbling away on the stove, so it smells wonderful here right now. Must be why I can talk about this holiday now :D
Happy Thanksgiving!