Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Edition

Thanks to Son#1 for Photoshopping this for me.  No, we did not stand in downtown Seoul wearing Pilgrim Hats.
As most of my American readers will be aware, Thanksgiving is bearing down on us rapidly, and we Yanks in Korea are not immune, although the nice thing is that we're not of course we all really miss engaging in hand-to-hand combat in the grocery store aisles over the last can of jellied cranberry sauce or bag of stuffing mix like our friends and family back home.   This is because very few people in Korea are heavily invested in a uniquely American festival of thanksgiving and general remembrance of the survival of (at least some of) the passengers of the Mayflower, which Americans celebrate by watching parades on television, eating far too much food, and falling asleep while watching college football.  In some homes, activities also include tactical planning for the next morning on 'Black Friday,'(also a holiday in America) when many merchants offer excellent sale prices and frighteningly early opening hours to lure in Christmas shoppers. While this is not one of my family's traditions, I do have a number of friends who consider it all part of the joy of the Season to start off their Christmas shopping standing in a line outside of Best Buy at 3am in order to be one of the lucky ones to get at the incredible deal on This Year's Hot Gift Item ("Only 100 per store! No rain checks!)  I know people who map out their shopping strategy with the same attention to detail and timing that Eisenhower used in planning the landing at Normandy.  Of course, now and then the crowd gets a bit too enthusiastic about all those discounted plasma-screen TVs and there's an unfortunate trampling, but that's all part of the fun, I suppose. Those of you who know me personally will of course realize that this combination of a) rising before dawn b) shopping and c) crowds; makes Black Friday my idea of a personal Hell, which is why I always stay home that day and put up my Christmas decorations while taking frequent breaks for cold turkey sandwiches.

 Thanksgiving is also traditionally the time for reunions with rarely-seen family members, which can be either pleasant or awkward, depending on the ages, political leanings and general life philosophies of the parties in question as well as the amount of wine being drunk.  It is also the time that more eccentric and/or dysfunctional family members tend to strut their stuff;  it's almost part of the national experience to dread  anticipate spending the holiday with Uncle Herb, who is guaranteed to either drink too much, initiate a heated political debate, or insist on telling cousin Sue (who is there with her partner, Eileen) why she's not having any luck in catching a husband.

Just another frighteningly insightful observation from some e-cards
While American Thanksgiving is more or less a harvest festival, it does, of course, have its own particular spin that makes it a bit different from such festivals in other countries.  In the US, Thanksgiving includes not only typical harvest-y symbols, such as cornucopias, sheaves of wheat, corn, and the like, but also the ubiquitous turkey, pilgrims, and native Americans.


  It is worth noting here for my non-American readers that the word 'pilgrim' for Americans almost always conjures up the vision of a 17th-century Puritan, since the context in which most American children learn about pilgrims is that of the English Separatists, who - having been more or less driven out of England and Holland for their strict religious beliefs, sober mien, and lack of shiny buttons - made a pilgrimage to the New World in 1620 in order to worship freely, landing in what is today Plymouth, Massachusetts.  After an initially horrific winter, the pilgrims - helped and taught by the native Americans - managed to establish a thriving colony and produce a  bounteous harvest, the celebration of which was shared with the native Americans and (years later) referred to as 'The First Thanksgiving.'  What this means for us today is that all American children will, at some time in their lives, come home from school in November wearing a construction-paper pilgrim's hat or native American headdress, as well as a turkey whose feathers are created by tracing their hands. This early training results later on in American children struggling to absorb the more general concept of a 'pilgrim' as 'traveler' or 'one who makes a religious pilgrimage,' so deeply ingrained is the concept of a pilgrim as someone who looks like this:

English Pilgrim to the New World


This, naturally, results in a certain amount of confusion when these same children learn in later years that many modern Muslims make pilgrimages to Mecca, or that the characters in The Canterbury Tales were making a pilgrimage.  Believe me when I tell you that - as a former middle and high school teacher - I speak from experience, and that American children tend to be naturally resistant to reorganizing their concept of the word 'pilgrim.'

Muslim pilgrims in Mecca.
Of course, being in Korea at Thanksgiving time has been interesting, since the rest of the world at large is not overly concerned with it. My FaceBook feed is full of status updates involving turkeys and baking and housecleaning and travel (Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day of the year in the US, hands down); here in Korea - unless you are on the US Army base -the only indication that Thanksgiving is approaching is the availability of turkeys at Costco and a number of hotels and restaurants that cater to Americans providing Thanksgiving dinners and buffets.  While we at the Asia Vu house are making preparations for a weekend of celebrating, and some of our friends have already flown back to the US to join the ongoing national frenzy, the rest of Seoul is going about its business without a care in the world.  I was  making lunch plans with a German friend a few days ago and told her that the 24th was out as we had an American holiday, Thanksgiving.  "Ah," she responded, "I have heard of this, I think."

MrLogical's company will be open for business as usual on Thanksgiving, although  the company will also be providing a Thanksgiving meal for all of its local employees on Friday evening after work, which we'll be attending.  We'll also be attending a potluck Thanksgiving at the home of friends, so we won't be lacking for Thanksgiving celebration, even if it won't be just like home.  We won't have football games or parades;  Uncle Herb won't be anywhere in sight; the pumpkin pie may not taste just like Grandma's, and there will likely be at least one kind of kimchi at the Thanksgiving buffet.   But we'll be giving thanks anyway.  Giving thanks for the opportunity to live in another country and meet new people who have become as close as family in a short time, as is the way in the expat community;  to travel, to learn, and to grow.  And when we get back home and do have a 'real' Thanksgiving again, I know we'll appreciate it all the more, because we'll know how precious it really is.

Happy Thanksgiving.

16 comments:

Wilma said...

Sounds like you are going to have a nice Thanksgiving. We don't buy into the frenzy for Thanksgiving or Christmas, as you know, but we have fun watching those who do. :) With regard to the pilgrim issue, have you ever read Molly's Pilgrim? Excellent book.

MsCaroline said...

No, I've not read it, but I just googled it and it looks wonderful. Thanksgiving was always a bit odd growing up since we were mostly overseas and I had the Canadian/American thing to contend with. I had no idea about the whole dysfunctional relative thing until I was well into adulthood. Just never experienced it. Have a nice time with the neighbors!

Karen said...

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, Carolyne. I hope you enjoy your day! As usual, I had a good chuckle over your blog...especially appreciated the part about Black Friday "hell." I feel EXACTLY the same way. Early rising, shopping and crowds effect me much the same as you. I also have to admit to having the same problem as many of the children when it comes to my initial reaction to the word "pilgrim." To me, the first thing I think of is the guys and girls in funny hats and belt buckles (On the hats!). Of course, I know what a pilgrim really is, but first impressions die hard, and sometimes not at all. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays...to me it's all about family and food, 2 of my favorite things. Not to mention football, which I also enjoy! It's a bit of work preparing the meal but since we all divvy up the chores it is not really a big deal. Just made my squash and turnips, Hubby just made his special stuffing (which really only he likes) and tomorrow I will peel the potatoes. That leaves Leah to make her desert and we will bring our contributions over to join the rest of the gang on Thanksgiving. Also...got a free pumpkin pie at work today...wheeee. Feel very fortunate to have so many things to be thankful for, especially healthy children, which was not the case 2 years ago. THAT was a Thanksgiving to forget! But I don't...just makes me all the more grateful. Everything else is just window dressing in all honesty! Anyway...rambling on. Have a little more work to do before tomorrow. Am making yet another new schedule since we are starting a new, school wide "master schedule" on Monday. Seems we just can't get started this year!!
Many good thoughts and thanks for good friends flying towards Korea tonight! Have fun!

Love,
Karen

MsCaroline said...

Aw, thanks, Karen! Somehow I knew you (and I'm sure, Wilma, too) would feel the same way about Black Friday. A day (imho) to be spent away from all retail outlets.
Not cooking here except for sweet potato casserole and cranberry-orange-apple chutney...and a couple more pies (boys ate the 2 I made already.) So pleased you're making turnips - my mom always makes a turnip and rutabaga casserole that is to die for - we rarely ran across turnip anything below the Mason-Dixon line or out West, so people were always intrigued when it showed up on our table!

Extra thanks for healthy kids and families - all that is more precious when you've had years without, like you mentioned. Have a wonderful break and enjoy!

outboundmom said...

One of the best Thanksgivings that I ever celebrated was in Seoul. We ordered a takeout crated Thanksgiving dinner from the Hyatt Hotel and celebrated with an odd mix of Americans, Canadians and Australians. The following day, I brought leftover turkey to a group of Korean doctors that I tutored. They were very hesitant to eat such a weird foreign food which just killed me being that they had once invited me out for Boshintang (dog soup - I politely declined that invitation!) To each his own :)

Happy Thanksgiving!

MsCaroline said...

OM - it does seem weird that people who eat fish jerky and silkworm pupae would be reluctant to eat turkey, but to each his own, I guess!

Wilma said...

You are absolutely right about me and Black Friday. I don't have anything to do with it. Since 1992 we have opted out of the holiday frenzy. The only time we venture into it is the weekend closest to Christmas to go to the mall and watch all the frenzied people hunting for the elusive 3-handled dingle-ball that the person they're buying it for doesn't want anyway.

MsCaroline said...

Lol, Wilma - that sums it up perfectly!

Marion said...

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! I'm in charge of bringing the breads and desserts ( :) ! ) so my house smells WONDERFUL. Having no family in TX we are celebrating with an extended family of friends. We gave up traveling over this particular holiday a few years ago. Too much stress. And, celebrating neither Black Friday (how can that be a proper noun!) nor Christmas, I stay out of the mall (except for trips to the ice rink about 5 times a week) for a longer and longer period each year for my own (and my families) mental health. My cousin has a wonderful tradition, which I hope to make at least one year -- they are out in Northern California. The week before Thanksgiving, they have an open house, starting around 1 and going until the wee hours. They provide Turkey and drinks, friends bring sides and everyone brings food for the local food pantry. Then on Monday they cart all the stuff over to the local food bank. Lots of fun, friends, and little stress, b/c it's not the actual holiday. Then everyone goes to their respective family get togethers on T-day.

nappy valley girl said...

I really had no idea about Thanksgiving before I moved to the States. I had heard of it, but wasn't sure when it was exactly or what it signified. Had no clue it was this huge holiday in America. We are spending it with German friends who are just as baffled by the whole thing as we are, really, but it has become a tradition with us to share a turkey over the past three years.
Enjoy your Korean Thanksgiving!

MsCaroline said...

Marion: Love the idea of the Open House! As far as shopping goes, every year I get more and more deluded with the whole commercial and material vibe. It says something about our culture that we all have so much that it's a struggle to come up with things to give people. We're not crazy about Tgiving travel, either: often very crazy. Since we have rarely (if ever) lived anywhere near any family members, Tgiving has usually been about friends anyway, not the Norman-Rockwell-type extended family feast. While we miss everyone back home, this is far from the first time we will have spent Tgiving by ourselves. We're still thankful, though!

MsCaroline said...

NVG- Thanks, we will! Ever the teacher, I've been thinking a lot about what a good eye-opener it is for my sons to see that the rest of the world doesn't really know much about Thanksgiving. It's a valuable insight to realize that something that seems unquestionably important to you might not even be on someone else's radar - and vice versa!

Trish @ Mum's Gone To ... said...

I shall think of you celebrating today and smile to think that I'm only a few miles away from Boston in Lincolnshire where the Pilgrim Fathers set sail to Holland and then to the New World. So you see it is a small world after all :-)

Happy Thanksgiving!

MsCaroline said...

Trish -Thank You! I'm sorry to say that I couldn't have told you where in England the pilgrims came from, so I'm feeling better educated now, although you'd think as a (US) Bostonian by birth, I'd have had some inkling about the connection. It is indeed, a small world!

elizabethm said...

Ah your Black Friday sounds like Boxing Day here (the day after Christmas Day in the unlikely event that you don't know!) with the added horror of being able to do the Christmas shopping. Would be totally my idea of hell too. Enjoy your unusual thanksgiving. I have just finished reading Bill Bryson's Made in America (have you read it? I loved it) which means that for the first time ever I sort of understand its role in American life!

MsCaroline said...

Elizabeth - I really dislike shopping in huge crowds, so Black Friday and Boxing Day both sound dreadful to me. I am slowly getting used to being in a crowd almost constantly now that I live in Seoul, but it's a slow process! I haven't read Bryson's book, but I googled it and it looks like something I would love - it's on my list now!