Looking at everyone's fun photos, I was suddenly hit by the realization that American Thanksgiving is a LOT like NEW YEAR'S EVE in Russia.
I've always compared American Christmas and Russian New Year's, because there are obvious similarities. Russian New Year's Eve is like a secular Western Christmas: snow, gifts, yummy food, Father Frost, nostalgic films, a Christmas tree, school vacation...basically the same holiday, right?
It would seem. In fact, I've seen "Advent calendars" come on the scene in Russia recently. Protestant families might celebrate Western Christmas, but others use an Advent calendar to count down the days until New Year's Eve. A completely secular thing!
Back to Thanksgiving. I'm struck every year by how meaningful it seems to be to almost everyone I know back in the U.S. Of course, there is that special American feeling of kicking off the winter holiday season...
There's a big meal with lots of prep, time spent reflecting on the year, and EVERYONE celebrates regardless of religion. Yes, it's true...I know there may be emotionally-charged political implications related to colonization, but even my staunchest liberal friends have been spotted in the kitchen laboring over a pot of mashed potatoes or homemade pie. We were invited by fellow ex-pats to a Thanksgiving dinner (we couldn't make it), and I saw lots of similar gatherings being posted, with no one wanting to leave an American behind without somewhere to celebrate Thanksgiving.
Christmas is more divisive. It's like we have to add the words "if you celebrate." You're welcome to our place, if you have nowhere to go, if you celebrate, of course.
I know we sometimes say Thanksgiving is a Christian holiday, because we give thanks to God. But people give thanks to different gods. And when I was reflecting on the tradition, the whole idea of pilgrimage and surviving in a new land made me think of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. So in that sense, I thought...perhaps Thanksgiving is really more like a Jewish holiday?
Just last week, American families were hunting ingredients and recipes and getting ready to wake up on Thursday prepared to cook and/or travel all day until Thanksgiving dinner was served. And in less than a month, I'll look out my window to see no one outside because everyone is indoors cooking up a storm. And then towards evening, I'll see parcel-laden Russians criss-crossing their way across the courtyards to pick up last-minute ingredients, and gifts, maybe a festive cake to treat their hosts, or a bottle of champagne. And over the next few days, they'll repeat the process as they go to visit friends and extended family. Everyone has that celebratory mood, that nostalgic New Year's feeling that I probably won't ever fully understand, because I didn't grow up celebrating New Year's Eve Soviet-style.
But the next time an American asks me about New Year's Eve in Russia, maybe I'll say that it's like Christmas, but also REALLY like Thanksgiving. And if a Russian asks me about Thanksgiving, I'll say it's a lot like New Year's Eve in Russia, but without Father Frost and the presents under the tree.
In general, I think international holiday traditions are getting mingled around the globe. I just read a great book about Santa Lucia to my kids, and I would love to celebrate or at least attend a concert. We have no Swedish blood whatsoever, but Andrei has studied Scandinavian traditions extensively, so maybe they'll adopt us. :) And we gladly embrace IKEA and Hygge and visions of girls dressed in white with candle garlands, bearing baked goods.