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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Turkey Day-Less

Posted on Tue, Nov 20, 2007 at 9:49 PM

 By Sam Winston

click to enlarge thanksgiving.gif
Philip Roth in his Pulitzer Prize winning book American Pastoral described Thanksgiving as the quintessential American day. Where the battle of life halts and "just one colossal turkey for two hundred and fifty million people- one colossal turkey feeds all... A moratorium on all the grievances and resentments for everyone in America who is suspicious of everyone else. It is the American pastoral par excellence and it lasts twenty-four hours."

It is certainly going to be weird to not have a Turkey Day but it will be even stranger to not even have the idea of Thanksgiving here in Germany. Roth was onto something when he said that it is truly "American."

My first realization that there would be no Turkey Day for me was

a discussion of national holidays in my language class. Much to the surprise of my fellow students, who came from places like Japan, Italy, Bolivia and more, it was indeed Thanksgiving and not Fourth of July that was the defining celebration of our national fabric. "But what about 'Born on the Fourth of July' with Tom Cruise?" they seemed to ask in unison. While Hollywood certainly has plenty of stroke, a laugh and simple shake of the head from me was enough to correct that cultural misconception.

Here in Northern Germany, Christmas is the top dog here the way that soccer rules sports on the old continent. There's Christmas and then there's everything else. What makes it so big, other than a single Christian religion tradition that greatly out-dates the history of the country, are these month long open outdoor Christmas markets (more to come in a future post). Lights, hot cocoa, cinnamon baked sweets, and "Gluwein", a warm red wine of sorts, are all part of the ambiance where people take to the streets here for a full month. That helps Christmas be Christmas here. That and of course no Thanksgiving.

Trying to explain Thanksgiving, what we do on this holiday and not its hokey story of origin, and what makes it so special was a lot harder than I thought. "Thanksgiving is just Thanksgiving" I kept saying to perplexed looks.

I went to explain the role of the turkey but there was another problem. In Germany, they don't even actually have turkey. They have "Pute", which they often translate as "a big chicken" or "hen" with less fat. But it's not turkey. It is safe to say that Thanksgiving gets lost in translation.

I say all of that to say, enjoy your Turkey Day this week the way any American rightfully should. After all, it's just another Thursday here in Germany.

- The New Orleanian Abroad


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