Thanksgiving: What it Feels Like for an American in the UK

written by Lindsay Tennant

I moved to the UK in 2007.  More precisely I moved to the county of Kent, in Southeastern England.  I came here alone to teach for a year (it’s now been eleven!) and didn’t know a soul. 2007 was a time before Skype, a time before iPhones, a time before Facebook had taken off. So, to connect with my family back home I had to buy this cheap Nokia mobile and pay 10p (around 20 cents at the time) a minute to call home; or I could email and wait until I was at my laptop to speak to my family.  

Can we even imagine this now?! It might have well have been the Dark Ages! I came here full of excitement and hope of immersing myself in a new culture and experiencing all that the UK had to offer. It was an exciting time – until the reality of UK autumn hit me in the cold, wet face in late October. First was Halloween. Let's just say that Halloween is considerably less cordial and friendly as it is back home. It definitely lacks the festivity and creativity that I crave in my favorite holiday. I could lament on but that's just the beginning of my holiday woes.

So Halloween was rather tragic for me. You see, I am originally from Massachusetts, and back home we take fall very seriously. We love our beautiful foliage, our apple- and pumpkin-picking, our Halloween, and especially our Thanksgiving! So you can just imagine the homesickness I was feeling after this lukewarm Halloween, and I had completely forgotten: Thanksgiving just doesn’t happen here.

Oh, what a sad time that was. I’m a teacher for goodness sake! I am supposed to have 2.5 days off of school. The other 2.5 days of that week are supposed to be dedicated to having fun and pep rallies for the big game! I am from New England; Thanksgiving is our day! Like, I literally lived in Plymouth before I moved.

Anyway, that whole week was just one big nothing. The feeling of excitement for Thanksgiving, the pep rally, the 2.5-day work week, the gathering of friends home to visit—it just didn’t happen. The worst part was that I knew it was happening, back home, but that I just wasn’t a part of it. This was something that I really wasn’t prepared for. I somehow forgot that this was solely an American thing. I had no American friends to celebrate it with and, either way, I had to go to work at a school for the whole week anyway, so where’s the fun in that?

Now, the reason I dragged you down memory lane into the Dark Ages earlier was to emphasize that at that time I couldn’t even see my family or friends with my actual eyes. I couldn’t video chat them and pretend I was there. There was just this vast expanse of anti-climactic nothing and it was horrible.

Things have obviously changed over the years—I have American friends now, and Skype exists—but unless I am home, Thanksgiving is still just rubbish. I have tried to cook my own meal, but it’s just not the same. It’s the middle of the week so no one has the day off. My friend cooks a massive Thanksgiving dinner on a Saturday, but that’s just not the same either; and neither was the restaurant that tried to do a Thanksgiving meal in London, the year I went to that.

None of this works because not only do you have to work the day of and the next day, but more importantly- you can’t get the food that you want (read: NEED) to celebrate properly!  There is no store-bought cranberry sauce that’s gelatinous and shaped like the can, and as far as I am concerned, Thanksgiving is not Thanksgiving without gelatinous cranberry sauce in a can. End of discussion.

I did manage to go home for a few blissful Thanksgivings. I ate, and ate, and ate some more, and was so happy. I was also able to have that time off with my family and friends and to feel the excitement of sharing that surrounds Thanksgiving. As much as I am glad for the advances in technology that allow me to be close to my family the rest of the year I will just need to live with my Thanksgiving memories again this year. So spare a thought for me and all the other American ex-pats, slogging off to work for just another day.