Since I moved to the UK in 2005 with my two kids and husband its taken time to adapt to the British culture with how they do certain holidays, but many things I've embraced as my own. Honestly there is very little in the way of traditions that I've kept from the States. However, one holiday I have continued to celebrate in England is the American tradition of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving falls on the 4th Thursday of November, but because it’s not a day off in the UK, I usually have a celebration meal on a weekend since it is quite the feast. We also have made it more of an occasion to introduce British friends to classic foods such as sweet potato casserole, corn bread stuffing, green bean casserole and my favourite, pumpkin pie.
This past Sunday we invited three other families and gave each the challenge of making at least one American dish. I was rather impressed with their versions and resourcefulness because the UK lacks of some ingredients that are common place back in the US. Of course, pumpkin pie was on the top of the list. Apparently, like it normally is for me, it was an ordeal for the friend who made the pie to actually find pumpkin. She searched numerous grocery stores and ended up reserving 1 of 6 cans in city centre store. I have a feeling the other cans were for expats who live here as well.
From my earliest of memories of celebrating Thanksgiving, my family always had a pumpkin pie. I think a well-made pumpkin pie has a very fresh and healthy taste with a dash of seasonal flavours such as nutmeg or cinnamon. It was and still is a much-loved dessert.
Since no Thanksgiving is complete without the pumpkin pie, I searched all across the UK to find tinned pumpkin right after the international move almost a decade ago. I ended up asking my mother to pack her bags with the prized commodity when she came to visit that first Thanksgiving. I think she brought over three huge tins. The following year I was left to try to find it on my own. In desperation, I made a terrible attempt of getting the pulp from an actual pumpkin creating more of a disaster on my hands than a success. So I ended up buying about 20 jars of pureed pumpkin baby food. Let’s just say that when a friend found a tin at a more upscale supermarket, I think I bought every last can they had – this is the same store where one my friend had reserved a can for last Sunday’s spread. These days it is a little more readily available, and I’m grateful I can still make a version of my favourite dessert here in the UK.
But Thanksgiving is more than just a feast, it’s a great time to reflect on the year, and tell the things we are grateful for in our lives. One of the things my husband and I do with the kids is go around the table and recount what we have been blessed with, with the opportunities we have been given, and then also for things we are grateful for in each other (sometimes a bit of challenge for siblings!). To me, Thanksgiving is exactly what the name is: a time to give thanks.
When we are thankful, something amazing happens: our muscles relax, we find ourselves smiling and enjoying the moment and then our perspective on life starts to change as we take time to be grateful. I love celebrating Thanksgiving once a year but I hope to take time to be grateful every day.
This week I’m in both the local paper and radio on Thanksgiving as an American in the UK. It’s giving me an opportunity to see why it is important to be thankful. As I did research, I actually discovered that there is a whole science behind gratitude, thankfulness and appreciation because there are so many personal benefits.
In article published a few years ago, journalist John Tierny summed up the personal benefits well. ‘Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” has been linked to better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression, higher long-term satisfaction with life and kinder behaviour toward others, including romantic partners. A new study shows that feeling grateful makes people less likely to turn aggressive when provoked . . . .’
I would describe myself as a realistic optimistic. Maybe because of all my travels ranging from the jungles of Mexico to ice lakes in Siberia, or maybe because I work with surviviours of human trafficking, I always take the stance that life is all about your perspective.
For example, I’m FREQUENTLY asked why I stay in the UK when it is cold and rainy half the year and why I call the UK home. Bottom line is that I love the culture, the people, and yes, even the weather (for the most part, I’m a realistic optimist not just an optimist.) Well, when half the year in Texas you can’t even stay outside without the fear of turning into a sweat ball or worse having a heat stroke, a little rain is nice. I, in fact, enjoy the weather because I prefer that over sweaty armpits any day. But I’m not going to grumble and complain in either because it could always be worse (African deserts for example). I try to be grateful where I am because whinging about it never helped anyone and it certainly doesn’t change things.
I am working on cultivating more of the practice of gratefulness as a lifestyle – the biggest reason is because personally I want to be a joy-filled person who enjoys life. One of my favourite authors, Brene Brown says,
“We're a nation hungry for more joy: Because we're starving from a lack of gratitude.”
When I take time to be grateful, not only does my perspective change, I change. That disquiet I feel sometimes or frustration that I didn’t do enough, sleep enough, and all those other ‘not enoughs’ calms down and my soul feels more at rest.
So whether you celebrate the US holiday of Thanksgiving or not, my challenge to you and myself is to experiment. Make an extra effort through the month of December, one of the more stressful months of the year, to daily make the habit of taking time to appreciate, be grateful and give thanks. And then let me know how it goes!
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