I dreamt of Standing Rock, standing still in a rush of people running as dogs and water cannons unleashed. I woke up to several messages from friends and family, all asking if I was “eating” that day. Eating, in this case, serving as code for “doing Thanksgiving*.”
*Note: I am NOT getting into the sticky wicket of discussing the arguments against, or merits of, celebrating this contested holiday. I just don’t have the energy for it today. Suffice it to say that I see both sides and… just… there is more work to do. In the meantime, I wish everyone would just let people live their lives.
Let me say right up front that I am not a Winter holiday person. After Halloween, I’m ready to pack it in until somebody has a birthday. I really, truly just don’t care about the decorations and feasting and what-not. The getting-together-with-friends-and-family bit sounds nice in a way, but all of the pressure of emulating some gold foil cursive script blazing fireplace postcard holiday tends to get in the way of any real coziness. I would rather just hang out with people because I, you know, want to.
But in times of duress, people to cling to tradition. It serves to anchor selfhood and kinship ties, and is a reminder of how things were- or could be- depending on what lens you look through. And, the US is in crisis right now. So, of course it makes sense that people would want to check in to see how we are managing this uniquely American holiday.
Before I answer that, I want to speak a bit to the discomfort of being an American abroad right now. The immediate response we get whenever our accent is clocked is questions about the election of the creature-who-shan’t-be-mentioned.
Ya’ll. I am so sick of talking about it. How many ways can I come up with to say “yeah- we’re screwed,” or to try and shift the conversation to Standing Rock, Black Lives Matter, impacts of Hurricane Matthew, the raging fires in Appalachia, or- shit- I’ll even talk about Kanye’s breakdown just please, PLEASE- I can’t with the platinum coated human port-o-potty anymore.
People are genuinely and legitimately living in fear in the States, and most (certainly not all) people asking me about it are treating it like just another “reality” show the US has churned out for gasp-factor. I am here watching my country freak out from afar and have no idea what to do or even how to start.
With that rattling around in my simple little head, I begin answering the questions of Thanksgiving. I dodged it with various versions of “nah, it’s not really a thing here. Plus, everyone is working and at school… and it’s really just too hot for heavy foods.”
On the day, I scrolled past photos of my friends and family standing for photos, in front of tables covered in food, wearing sweaters and awkward smiles that said “take the pic and let’s friggin’ eat already!” There were the on-the-fence posts by people who recognise the problematic origins of the celebration, but still- SWEET POTATO PIE! I was shown one of my own photos from a few years ago, smiling with a young family member (who could pass for my very own child- and who I may well snatch up when her mom isn’t looking) at one of the amazing gatherings put to gather by my husband’s aunt… and so, fine.
When our American roommates (both former Peace Fellows) mentioned having a collective dinner, I was all-in.
I hijacked the term “Friends-giving” from my friend who hosted a scrumptious meal at her house last year and set to figuring out what we were going to have. There needed to be gluten and dairy-free options for one person, vegetarian stuff for the kids, B wanted a turkey- but settled for a chicken- and I had a deep need for Jezebel sauce (which is just cranberry sauce with horseradish- I know- faaaancy!).
A roommate re-named our holiday “Mates-giving,” as it felt more Aussie, and we had another former Fellow from Finland-by-way-of-US and the boys each had a friend over, one of whose father from Czech Republic (is that still how it’s called?) ended up staying for a bit, too.
And- it was good. We did all the things except fight and watch football- you know: board games, getting in each other’s way in the kitchen, eating and drinking too much, B passed out on the couch, and the kids ate all the desserts immediately upon realising that there were no rules around nutrition on that day. It was… very American.
The next round of holidays- sheesh December, why you gotta come right after November?- we will be in Fiji. We will spend the holidays on a beach somewhere, or maybe join a lovo feast in the community. Best of all- our access to internet will be limited, if at all. So we can, if only for a moment, find reprieve from the onslaught of bad news from home.