A year ago I was gorging myself on turkey and pumpkin pie and basking in family love in Huntsville, Alabama. It was my first time back to the States for Thanksgiving in over 20 years and it reminded me what a top-drawer holiday it is. You get a Christmas meal with all the family and other trimmings but without the pressure (and expense) of exchanging (often unwanted, almost certainly unneeded) gifts.
There’s no Thanksgiving at home for me this year – my partner Peter and I are saving up instead for the hugely costly exercise of visiting US family (in Georgia, Louisiana and California) for the Christmas gift-fest instead. I won’t be officially celebrating here either. Back in the 1990s, when I first moved abroad, I engineered Thanksgiving in London a few years on the trot, but I’ve since lost touch with most of my American ex-pat friends … and it’s difficult to organise such a big meal when everyone’s working all day (at home, our Thanksgiving meal is usually mid-afternoon) and tiny London kitchens and ovens aren’t exactly big-bird friendly.
How has a trivial holiday like Halloween been so embraced and Thanksgiving overlooked?
But I was reminded again about Thanksgiving a few weeks ago, on Halloween, when London seemed to be overrun with zombies and blood-spattered slasher victims. How has a trivial, and increasingly frightening, holiday like Halloween been so embraced and Thanksgiving overlooked?
Okay, sure, I know the historic reasons: Thanksgiving commemorates the Pilgrims coming to America having fled religious persecution in England. So, yeah, not something Brits may want to remember, in the same way that Stars and Stripes and fireworks on the Fourth of July aren’t a London thing.
But the spirit of Thanksgiving – to, literally, give thanks for life’s bounty, no matter how meagre it may occasionally seem (and it really isn’t meagre, that’s the point) – is surely worth celebrating whatever country, continent or creed.
The spirit of Thanksgiving – to, literally, give thanks for life’s bounty, no matter how meagre it may occasionally seem (and it really isn’t meagre, that’s the point) – is surely worth celebrating whatever country, continent or creed.
So, though I’ll be having no turkey today, I’ll be giving thanks for many personal things in my life today including Peter (and the wonderful mini-break to the Norfolk coast that he just treated me to), my family, my health, my 98-year-old neighbour Bridget who is always dropping by with care packages and chats, and – big BIG BIG thanks – the final conclusion a few weeks ago of my two-year legal battle. (Really, I just cannot tell you how very thankful I am, on a daily basis, that I do not have to deal with lawyers or legal correspondence anymore!)
Here are a few more items – large and small – that, over the past two years, I’ve benefitted from and give thanks for. These are things I think we can all be thankful for. I hope you agree. But feel free to add to the list if you don’t!
10 random things even Brits can give thanks for
1. UK theatre, and more specifically London theatre – This is the thing that first brought me to this country and compelled me to stay. I could never leave London for good because I could never live without knowing that, on my doorstep, I have access to the best art that the world has to offer. (Yep, okay, I’m biased, but there you have it.)
2. Scented hand lotion – I’m always trying to find new flavours, but vanilla is a standby favourite. Stroke, sniff, smile.
3. Twitter – I was a relatively slow adopter, but now I’m a self-confessed addict. Sometimes, I like to go cold turkey (unintended Thanksgiving pun) for a day or two (a wise thing to do to avoid overload), but I have become totally reliant on Twitter as both a professional communications outlet and also as a news and opinion catcher for topics that matter to me (theatre and politics). And I like to get geeky with Twitter management and monitoring gadgetry. See also: #LoveTheatreDay!
4. The Labour Party – It’s a total mess at the moment, but in less than six months, this movement has already become a big part of my life. Not withstanding the present leadership’s general chaos, the party at large and the people in it share my values – equality, social justice, fairness, collective endeavor – and dedicate their lives to championing these values and making a practical difference in the world.
And by the way, my local MP (Neil Coyle) is a jolly nice chap as are the folks leading my CLP (Constituency Labour Party). If you fancy meeting them and some other MP guests, come along to our Christmas party this coming Tuesday 1 December. Click here for tickets.
5. Costa coffee machines at Sainsbury’s – I can do my shopping and get my caffeine fix at the same time. Two birds, one stone.
6. Ipad editions of newspapers – Between this and my highly organised Twitter subject lists, I consume more news and current affairs than ever. I like feeling more informed.
7. Binge television – So much easier than box sets – no fiddling with the DVD player, no need to find more storage room. Live-streaming services like Netflix combined with a Golden Age television producing have turned me and Peter into very happy couch potatoes. And, as the winter nights draw in, there’s something incredibly cosy and intimate about curling up for a marathon session. Where will it end…? It’s all a question of stamina on the night. Recent favourites include: The Bridge, Jessica Jones, White Collar and Arne Dahl. All-time favourite: The Good Wife.
8. BBC Radio iplayer – I have to separate this out from the TV iplayer, as the Corporation has itself recently done. There’s so much great content available on BBC radio and a scroll through the app on my iphone makes me want to listen to it all. Unfortunately – and fortunately – I don’t get to the end of many programmes I start listening to. As a lifelong insomnia sufferer, it’s been a recent blessing to discover that a good BBC radio programme – no live audience with their laughter blasts, just the dulcet tones of the presenter and the incomparable sound quality – is the surest way to send me to sleep. My new bedtime ritual.
9. The NHS – I grew up in a country without a national health service and don’t ever want to live in such a place again. Brits are rightly proud of the NHS; like the BBC, one of our quintessentially British, flagship institutions, a key part of our national legacy and identity, which must be protected at all costs.
10. UK employment law – As broken as the tribunal system is (and I have a long list of reforms that I’ll no doubt share in future), we should all be thankful that we as individuals do have employment rights in this country. Yes, you have to fight to enforce those rights, and sometimes that can take two years (or more), but they exist. If I were still in the US, or operating under the laws governing the New York-based parent company of my former employer, I would have had no recourse to the appalling treatment I received from them. I would not be able to say, without fear of further legal threats, that I was unfairly and wrongfully dismissed, through no fault of my own, and that was upheld in a court of law. In a UK court of law.
I’ll keep giving thanks for that.