Photograph Laura Krippner
One of my New Zealand friends observed that the British see shopping as a leisure activity. In the same way as Kiwis would pop to the beach on a Sunday afternoon, we'd drive to an out of town shopping centre. I argued with him briefly, before agreeing and blaming the weather. Now we appear to have imported the worst bits of the American Thanksgiving tradition. So, no finishing work early on Wednesday, no catching up with family and friends, no eating ourselves into a food coma, no watching the balloon parade. No, none of the fun stuff just straight to the shopping.
Admittedly, the food is definitely the best bit (except for green bean casserole, and anything with marshmallows on it). Those dishes are beyond vile. Khaki canned green beans baked in a sodium filled broth and then processed pieces of deep-fried onion and flour scattered as an afterthought on top. But, if you ignore the dubious casseroles and move straight to desserts you can't really go wrong. There's pumpkin, apple and pecan pies... and leftovers which go on for days.
Our best Thanksgiving during our decade in the States was spent with good friends (Australian-British and Bulgarian-American) who like us had no family in the US and adopted both our family and 20+ other waifs and strays for the day. The meal had a distinctly European flavour (there were no marshmallows floating suspiciously over sweet potatoes). There were maybe fifteen different nationalities present including even a few random Americans. It embodied the diverse melting pot that the US has become. The real appeal of Thanksgiving is that it includes everyone regardless of race or religion, and it's the only day that the entire country just stops. Who knows what will happen this year when families that have been fractured by the election are thrown together.
Instead of embracing the actual tradition, we've elected to ignore the time-out that it provides. Thanksgiving effectively gives a useful pause between the Halloween madness and Christmas craziness. In the US people don't start thinking about Christmas (aka 'the holidays' to be politically correct about it) until after the last Thursday of November. Here we've had mince pies in the shops with a pre-Christmas sell by date, since September and now we've jumped straight to Black Friday. Except we haven't even copied it properly. This random excuse to increase sales has been going on for weeks in advance, it's been repurposed by some retailers as 'black ticket' sales, whatever that's supposed to mean. It's crass commercialism at its basest level. Black Friday has actually caused deaths in the US (Long Island Walmart, 2008), but here it's more likely to be a punch-up at Asda by the big screen tellys.
If we're going to copy another country's 'traditions' then let's do it properly, let's bring over the whole shebang, turkey or tofurkey and all. Thanksgiving is the only two day public holiday in the US calendar. So yeah, we'll take those two days, we'll catch up with family and bicker about Brexit, eat a week's worth of calories in a day, fall asleep on the sofa (on a Thursday!), and then shop or not on Friday. That would be much better than some Amazon inspired shopathon which drags out the Black Friday concept for weeks. We are not America. Let's at least be thankful for that.