We all know about this wonderful holiday in the United States. It is held on the last Thursday of each November. Thanksgiving as a holiday dinner and a family event is gradually being adopted by other nations as well, including in Hungary, probably at the encouragement of Americans who live or work overseas. Officially, seven other nations celebrate an autumn feast similar to Thanksgiving: Germany, Japan, Canada, Grenada, Liberia, Netherlands and Norfolk Island.
The origin of Thanksgiving in America has been told by historians in many ways, but there is general agreement on the main story, which presumably occurred in 1621, when the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. For more than two centuries, days of Thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.
It is a time of year, particularly in America, when families reunite at the home base, which is typically the parents’ house. The Thanksgiving meal is essentially a carefully baked turkey in the oven, which usually takes several hours. Garnishing and sides include mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, vegetables and cranberry sauce. Another indispensable ingredient is the stuffing for the turkey.
Americans often begin the Thanksgiving Feast in the afternoon, sometimes as early as 2 pm. One of the reasons is that they tend to eat a lot and need some time to digest the meal afterwards. One of the traditions at the table is that members of the family and guests stand up one by one and tell all what they can be thankful for.
So, perhaps we can all revive this custom at Thanksgiving in Hungary as well and as we try to consider what we can be thankful for this year in retrospect. I would call attention to the obvious and self-evident features of our lives: decent health, enough money to spend on essentials like food and medicine, the fact that our families surround us and perhaps that we have a wonderful partner in our life who is loyal, loving and nurturing.
But Americans often send this gratefulness message outside the home by saying “yes, we are thankful that we have enough to live a comfortable life, but we should also think about those who do not!” Americans sometimes also add that “we want to thank the Lord for allowing us to remain healthy and making it possible to hold a good job to provide for our families.”
However, in many American households, the Thanksgiving celebration has now lost much of its religious significance; instead, it now centers on cooking and sharing a bountiful meal with family and friends. The turkey has become all but synonymous with this holiday. Today, nearly 90 percent of Americans eat the bird—whether roasted, baked or deep-fried—on Thanksgiving, according to the National Turkey Federation.
Parades are also an integral part of this holiday in cities and towns across the United States. Presented by Macy’s department store since 1924, New York City’s Thanksgiving Day parade is the largest and most famous, attracting some 2 to 3 million spectators along its 2.5-mile route and drawing an enormous television audience. It typically features marching bands, performers, elaborate floats conveying various celebrities and giant balloons shaped like cartoon characters.
Beginning in the mid-20th century and perhaps even earlier, the President of the United States has “pardoned” one or two Thanksgiving turkeys each year, sparing the birds from slaughter and sending them to a farm for retirement.
If we think about it, we Hungarians who live outside of Hungary, also have a lot to thank for. Most of all, that we are able to maintain our cultural traditions and retain our written and spoken language skills, since an ethnic group’s survival is contingent upon preservation of its native tongue. Secondly, we are grateful that we have been able to avoid another major world war so far. Indeed, it has been nearly 72 years that the last such world conflict was ended and Hungary was occupied by a foreign power. Of course, there are regional and local wars on our planet, but those are usually resolved in a few years and developed nations tend to rush to the aid of those who have been rendered homeless or need aid for reconstruction as a result of those conflicts.
In sum, in America and elsewhere, this is the season to say “Thanks” and just be grateful. We should also reminisce a little and let our conflicts dissipate in preparation for Christmas, which is yet another major Holiday for 2.2 billion Christians around the world.