‘Why do you eat turkey? That’s my question.’ My Australian friend Henry stared at me quizzically as he asked me his Thanksgiving question. I was at a very unpatriotic loss. Google soon filled me in on this technicality (it was simply the most convenient bird for the pilgrims to use at the time, and the tradition stuck). The definition of Thanksgiving itself is more elusive, however. Most Americans would agree that it is our holiday for being consciously thankful, spending time with loved ones and eating a wide variety of delicious food. In my opinion, Thanksgiving has an especially important meaning for teenagers. With the precarious balance of schoolwork, social life and (perhaps most importantly) sleep, we do not have much time to catch up with extended family or to reflect at length on what we are grateful for. Thanksgiving provides the unique opportunity to do just these things.
I did not fully appreciate this holiday until I celebrated it in Florence (an irony in itself—to miss being thankful for Thanksgiving). Now I realize how special it is to dedicate a holiday to appreciating the blessings in your life. Celebrating Thanksgiving in Florence means that we may not get to enjoy a typically American Thanksgiving (last time I checked, no Italian shops were decked out with gourds and pilgrim hats), but in a counterintuitive way, this adds to the festive experience. As Matthew, an American living in Florence, points out, celebrating in Florence ‘allows you to focus more on your own family celebration rather than all of the other festivities going on.’ Since few celebrate Thanksgiving here, there are essentially fewer distractions to take away from the true meaning of the holiday: being thankful.
When I ask non-American friends what they think of Thanksgiving, they usually respond with a disinterested ‘nothing.’ With some annoying prodding, which usually goes something like ‘C’mon, you have to know something,’ I’m appeased with a stream of Thanksgiving-related nouns, such as my South African friend’s ‘Pumpkin … orange … turkey?’ I would not expect anyone but Americans to know all of the ins and outs of the holiday, but I must admit it does feel strange to be spending a holiday so important to my own culture among people largely oblivious to it.
However, celebrating Thanksgiving in Italy has made me realize that its concept truly crosses cultural boundaries. The idea of a day to appreciate who and what we are thankful for is easily accessible to most people regardless of nationality. My non-American friends openly relate to its sentimental purpose. My Italian friend Nick, for example, relates to the holiday because to him it means ‘being together with the people that you care about.’ After all, Thanksgiving is about bringing families together over a meal to enjoy each other’s company and share what we are thankful for.
And when my family members share what they are each thankful for this year, living in Florence will definitely be at the top of my list.