There is no official Thanksgiving in the United Kingdom which I think is rather sad. Gratitude is something that we need to teach our children. In the modern world, assailed by advertising and the media, it’s easy to be swallowed up by the culture of “I want” or “I need” where our day to day blessings are simply ignored. Without some sort of official corporate non-denominational celebration of gratitude for our blessings, there is a risk that people rush through their lives completely oblivious of all the things we have to be grateful for.
For this reason and for the sake of tradition, we have always kept Canadian Thanksgiving in our house. Although I am a naturalised British citizen, I am Canadian by birth and it is a festival my family have come to enjoy. I can never get a turkey in England in October, but we have the largest chicken I can find, and all the other trimmings, including pumpkin pie. Until recently, you couldn’t get a whole fresh turkey anywhere in this country until the last weeks of December, but the influx of American ex-pats has led to a very welcome, if limited, availability of turkeys in late November. I have always made it a point to get one around that time, in part to encourage supermarkets and butchers to keep stocking the focal point of the Thanksgiving meal at this time - and also in the vain hope they might start to have them in October too.
And so it was that once again this year I ordered a turkey during the fourth week in November, intending to cook it at some point during the week. On seeing the large bird in the fridge, my son turned to me and asked when we would have it. When I said sometime in the next few days, he looked me straight in the eye and said,
“Why don’t we celebrate American Thanksgiving on Thursday too?”
I consider myself to be both Canadian and British, so it never occurred to me to celebrate the US Thanksgiving. So I gave my standard reply,
“Why, because we are not American, darling.”
My son looked at me quizzically,
“But didn’t your ancestors come over on the Mayflower?”
This gave me pause. There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that my maternal great grandmother’s family was related to Francis Eaton, one of the passengers on that great ship, and we did visit both Plymouths (in England and the US) to teach our son about this over the years. And then he put the icing on the cake.
“And how can we not celebrate Thanksgiving when we are related to the ninth president of the United States?”
Okay, he had me here. During the war of 1812, when the British and Canadians were fighting the US, one of our ancestors, Isaac Corman, was captured by the Americans. He managed to escape with his life after convincing them (truthfully) that he was a cousin of American General William Henry Harrison.
After the war was over, William Henry Harrison was elected President in 1840. Sadly, his was the shortest presidential tenure in the history of American politics - he died 32 days into his first term. But yes, we are related and yes, it is very likely we are related to one of the pilgrims who was at the first Thanksgiving.
And so it is that for the first time ever, I am preparing a Thanksgiving feast on the fourth Thursday in November. I’m all for celebrations of gratitude, particularly as we do have so much to be grateful for, and this is a great way to celebrate our family history too. So as well as giving thanks, we’ll raise a glass to Francis Eaton, Isaac Corman and William Henry Harrison - and to the wonderful tapestry of nationalities that makes up our very happy family.
Wishing you and yours the Happiest of Thanksgivings!