Home for the holidays. It’s the first time in three years and in a place I’m not sure I ever considered home to begin with: where I grew up, where I underwent both traditional and traumatic adolescent experiences. There’s a history here but it’s a history that has definitely settled itself in the past. In the time since I came back for festivities in the winter of 2011, I’ve had so many other holiday celebrations and created so many memories with other families that I’ve been dreading how to make the most of the season.
In my youth I looked at the feminine through rose-colored glasses. I wanted to identify with the idea of the matriarch as the head of a family. To a certain extent I envied and emulated the illusion of perfection that characterized the fifties housewife. Like the Gilmores, I didn’t mind inheriting the livelihood of Donna Reed with moderation. I invested money in Kitchenware that would only end up in charity bins after moving back and forth across London. Soon it was no longer valid to cart around cupcake trays and oversized mixing bowls without a set destination. I discovered early on that the British did not carry the same enthusiasm for Halloween that was embedded in American culture. Of course most had never celebrated Thanksgiving unless they either had extended family in the U.S. or they had taken an eccentric fancy towards the holiday. Many of my childhood memories were, and still remain, smudged. I took to the dysfunctional yet lovable family trope in films while determined I could create that same memorable appeal out in the world as an adult.
That first year at university I suggested the idea of holding a makeshift Thanksgiving in our student kitchen to friends and housemates who took kindly to the idea. I sought out a butcher and placed a turkey order weeks before the Christmas turkeys were due to come in. I planned out meticulously the menu from American cookbooks, tried-and-true dessert recipes and suggestions from extended family. I sat cross legged in my room peeling potatoes and watching Julie & Julia to prepare for the marathon I was about to take on for the big day.
Two hours in the early morning air were spent lugging that turkey uphill from Canterbury City Centre. I had forfeited my expenses for the bus on ingredients and spices with no alternative but forced exercise. I roasted the bird, cut, peeled, extracted and mashed to create dishes that could feed a small army (the only year where I fully committed to making all the food myself). As everyone gathered around the table, I felt both extremely grateful and fortunate that I had made it to safety. Each person humoured me and shared what they were thankful for. I kept quiet about my past and they could have had no idea how much those Thanksgivings spent together meant to a young girl in a new country, in a new home.
I insisted that my first Christmas in England be spent alone. The weeks leading up to the end of the semester I hit the town gathering a miniature tree, ornaments and other miscellaneous decorations from Poundland to create a small scale Winter Wonderland within my student dorm. Once again friends participated the best they could, pretending to enjoy watching A Christmas Story (a film largely unknown to the British public) and accepting personalized boxes of doughy misshapen snowflake biscuits to take on the train for their journies. I was invited to several holiday gatherings by friends and the odd off-campus acquaintance. I planned to travel to the Welsh countryside in the following weeks but I was still too shy to impose on another household’s traditions. On Christmas Day I made a strada for breakfast and spent the day in bed eating Kraft Macaroni and Cheese sent from the States and only available in limited quantities for special occasions.
Thanksgiving is by far my favorite holiday of the season. After Thanksgiving dinner as a child, no matter how horribly the dinner went or how devastated each of us were that our family could barely stand to be in the same room with one another, we always unpacked the Christmas tree and hung ornaments. The shops bring out winter marketing and memorabilia in September now but I still don’t allow any festive music, biscuits, or peppermint mochas until after the leftovers have been put away and It’s A Wonderful Life starts on basic cable.
I spent three Thanksgivings with university friends and each year the number of attendees grew. I spent five Christmases with four different families who were kind enough to take me in. Each year was different and each year of memories draws up too many emotions—both heartfelt, bittersweet, and personally treasured—that I could hardly imagine celebrating with my own family this year in a country with more holiday extravagance but not nearly the same caliber of people. Then as if divine Father Christmas himself could sense my despair with the dilemma, I was invited to a co-worker’s Thanksgiving. An offer I happily accepted.