...people keep asking me that this time of year. My students are especially curious and come up with the weirdest questions.
After I recount the story of the first Thanksgiving, someone inevitably says, "But afterwards, didn't you just steal the Indians' land and kill them all, and that?"
"Yes, yes we did. So Thanksgiving is kind of also about the irony of it all. And it's kind of about how, for a moment at least before it all went to hell, everybody was in it together."
Two years ago we had Thanksgiving on campus with other American students, and I still remember the "toast" that the Dean gave at our little feast. He, being a Brit, had never actually experienced 'real' Thanksgiving, but he was still moved when he talked about the holiday. He wondered at it, because it has managed to evade commercialism and complication. Because it hasn't become something it wasn't meant to be. Because we set aside a day that is still only about togetherness and gratitude. He was touched, and so was I.
My students see it differently, though:
"But what does one do on Thanksgiving?"
"Well, really you just eat," I answer. "Get together with family and eat a big, beautiful feast."
"But, there's also a feast at Christmas. Don't you get tired of it? My mum makes a Christmas dinner that's well nice. But afterwards she's practically lifeless for two weeks. I mean, don't the mums get tired of cooking?"
Like I said, the weirdest questions. They just come at you from nowhere. "Well, ... yes I suppose they do." But also, isn't there some kind of baking-super-strength that takes over during the holidays? One that compels us to bust out all the baking pans and draws us magnetically to MarthaStewart.com and makes us feel like we've suddenly remembered that the meaning of life is pumpkins and apples and pancakes? That's how it is with me anyway.
I like to spread Thanksgiving cheer around this poor, autumn-feast-less country. This year I baked a zillion mini pumpkin pies and bestowed new life-experiences on my supervisors, students, and other residents of the history department. None of them had ever had pumpkin pie before. None! To which I say, a life lived without pumpkin is a life half-lived. Anyway I think most of them were wary. Because if you've never had pumpkin pie, you just imagine pumpkin, like, chopped up, in a pie. Gross.
But all pies were devoured with mmmms and ooooos, and declarations of "You know, it's quite lovely actually."
One of my students marveled at the mysteries of cooking it: "But... how did you fit the whole pumpkin in the oven?" Ummm....
Last Thanksgiving another student asked with genuine curiosity, "D'you know the film The Patriot?"
"Is it like your favorite film?"
"...Uh, no. why?"
[Stunned shock]. "I just thought all Americans loved that film."
Oh, strange and wondrous America. It's quite lovely, actually.