By far Thanksgiving is my favourite holiday of the year. It comes at harvest time when all manner of flowers and produce is available everywhere, there is colourful abundance. The weather is also fairly good, a bit brisk and cool but enjoyable. When I was living abroad for so many years, I always made sure the management committee at the Embassy would put Thanksgiving amongst the holiday we would observe. We were allowed only so many Stat Holiday per year and we would do a mix of Local and Canadian Holidays. Our American colleagues were allowed to do all local and US Holidays, so it could easily amount to 28 days per year, lucky buggers.
My first Thanksgiving abroad was in Mexico City in 1986. We then had Thanksgivings in Cairo, Chicago, Warsaw, Amman, Beijing. Though the ones that stands out was in Mexico City and in Cairo for funny reasons. In Mexico City, I was the first to ask about where we could get a turkey, since such a big bird was not readily available in markets. Also Mexican Cuisine did not involve dishes with a whole roast bird. It appears that no one had domesticated white feathered bird, the wild kind was common but not on farms. Through contacts and speaking with our Mexican Staff at the Embassy, we got our turkeys delivered curb side in a cardboard box. In Mexico City cooking is always more complicated because altitude does affect cooking time, almost doubling the time. Our dinner was ready at Midnight instead of 7pm, we still had a grand old time.
In Cairo it was different, Egyptian cuisine culture does not have such a bird on the menu. It was our Ambassador who invited us all to dinner at the residence, which was an old Palace which had belonged to the Queen of Egypt, Farida Zulfikar, wife of King Farouk. The dining room had the distinction of having seen Nazi Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbles hosted by the German Archeological Institute in 1939.
The cook had prepared 2 big turkeys for us all and he wanted to present them in such a way as to display the birds. So on the table on great silver platters on a bed of greens sat the two roasted birds, however to everyone’s surprise, the cook had also roasted the head and neck and put them back in situ. So you had these two golden roasted turkeys staring at you. We had a good laugh.
Thanksgiving is a North American Holiday, in the USA you have a tradition around the holiday, whereas in Canada it is strictly a Harvest festival which was brought to Canada by the British. In French Culture there is no such tradition, this is why in Canada you will see more celebrating in English communities than in French ones. In fact it was explorer Martin Frobisher who celebrated the holiday in 1578, it was more religious than feasting, he was looking for the Northwest Passage in the Arctic circle. In 1608 the founder of Quebec City and Governor of New France, Samuel de Champlain had celebrations of thanksgiving simply because they manage to survive in an hostile climate. It only really became common in 1879 as a harvest festival mixing religious service with a fine meal. Turkey was not the principal meat only more recently due to convenience and availability has it become the common dish. Though many still do roast chicken instead, with the seasonal vegetables and a fancy dessert. In 1957, the Governor General Vincent Massey, decreed that Thanksgiving would be an Official Holiday; “A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed – to be observed on the second Monday in October.”
I am thankful each year for my life and friends. All the good things I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy. For our Home and our 43 yr relationship and our 2 puppies. Thankful for the people around me, that is what matters most to me.