Thank You: A Brit’s Love Letter to Thanksgiving

updated May 24, 2019
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(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

I was born in late November in the late 1960s in England. It is, in many ways, a wonderful place (thank you for Great British Bake Off, Stephen Fry, and The Smiths). But it is a country that doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving.

So, when I met an American woman in an Irish bar in 1994, I didn’t know anything about the holiday. (I did learn, however, that the difference between Green Salad and Mixed Salad — according to the waitress who took our order — was that Mixed Salad “had some red in it.”)

I didn’t know that, four months later, when I arrived in New York, my birthday would no longer be my birthday, falling as it does on Thanksgiving Week. (I didn’t know that if I were to order a sandwich in a deli, it would come so over-laden with meats and cheeses that it could feed a family of four for at least a fortnight, not that “fortnight” was a word anyone used.)

I didn’t know that Thanksgiving would become my very favorite holiday, even now.

Here is what I am thankful for.

That my first Thanksgiving was in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, with her family, and that the conversation of seven kids and two larger-than-life parents was akin to “downtown Beirut in 1982.”

That they welcomed me in; that Thanksgiving was a thing at all; that I got to stand up and thank them for welcoming me in.

That four years after we met, right after Thanksgiving, she complained that the meal I’d bought her for her birthday “smelled weird,” even though it didn’t.

That she was pregnant.

That she got cravings for ice cream, in the time-honored tradition of clichéd cravings for pregnant women; that she was eating for two babies, not one.

That they were born healthy, and I got to throw the La Leche League women out of the hospital room when they made her feel bad about breastfeeding.

That Gerber 2nd Foods Chicken and Chicken Gravy exists.

That eventually they’d eat solid foods, including the piece of spaghetti that somehow got lodged up one of their noses.

That the same kid survived eating deer poop in northeast Pennsylvania, and that the advice the pediatrician gave to avoid any lasting effects was to “feed her warm milk.”

That there were cake beaters to lick; that birthday cakes were towering, and covered in candle wax; that all the sugar at Halloween finally gave way to sleep.

That pizza could be a treat; actually, thank you for pizza.

Thank you for Bare Burgers everywhere and for Telly’s Taverna in Astoria — where Nana Momma treated them like her own kids — and for the little French café in Long Island City where we’d eat crepes on Saturdays and for that Thai place — what was it called? — where once we ate on Tuesdays but now it’s gone.

For all the school lunches she made for them for the school that didn’t feed them, and for the fact that they knew to share when some kid forgot, or some kid’s parent didn’t have the means.

Thank you that they can cook for themselves; that we will always disagree on the correct way to make cheese on toast (me: broil, then flip, cheese on, broil; them: cheese on, toast).

That the youngest (by a minute) asks for my apple pie.

That we’ve been to every single educational establishment on the east coast and have heard about every possible meal plan.

That next Thanksgiving they will have been gone for months, but they will have eaten.

Thank you that we’ve not had to raise our children hand-to-mouth, not knowing where the next meal comes from.

Thank you that they get that. Thank you, this country, for letting me in, and for giving me daughters. Thank you very much.