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Thanksgiving in Australia has always been an odd affair for my partly-American family. The springtime weather is all wrong for a huge harvest-season feast. Cranberries of any kind are hard to source. Curious Australian friends want to understand the story behind the holiday, when many — including my family — have taken the good from the day and rejected the origin story, which is mostly fiction.
“It’s about eating together and being thankful,” we tell them. In recent years, my son’s teenage friends have started showing up for the holiday, wearing suits and bearing bottles of wine, fascinated by our American conventions. I make them tell us what they’re thankful for before we eat — a ritual I hated as a jaded teenager — but one that they approach with gusto.
Yesterday at my table, many people mentioned how thankful they were for our newfound freedom after almost two years of intermittent lockdowns. We expressed gratitude that we might see our loved ones again soon, after being separated for so long after federal and state border closures. We were thankful for our health, for vaccines, for one another.
Missing from our table was my closest friend, an American who also lives here in Melbourne. She hates thanksgiving: as a lifelong vegetarian she’s repelled by a holiday that centers on a large dead bird; as a critical thinker, she’s appalled by a holiday that glosses over the violence that marked the colonization of the Americas. I’m sympathetic to her disdain, but I also feel strongly that traditions can change and adapt, and as long as we’re not hurting anyone we should grab our joy where we can (I concede that the turkey might disagree). Taking a day to be together and explicitly tell one another that we are thankful for our kinship feels especially vital this year, when we’ve missed out on so much togetherness.
Unlike Halloween, which is slowly making inroads in Australian culture among school-aged children, Thanksgiving will never catch on here outside of expat gatherings like the one at my house. But perhaps it might inspire more of us to pause and think about the gifts we’ve been granted, and recognize the goodness in our lives. I see no downside to that.
Are there celebrations in your life that you brought from other cultures? What do you think they might teach Australia? Let us know at [email protected]
Now for this week’s stories: