At the beginning of November, I was walking through Oxford with some friends when I noticed that Christmas decorations were already hanging from nearly every building. I pointed out the shining white lights to a British friend and said, “I can’t believe there are already Christmas decorations up! It isn’t even Thanksgiving yet!” My friend looked at me for a moment, a confused look on his face, and then said, “Jordan, Thanksgiving isn’t really a holiday here.”
It took a moment of thinking over the traditional Thanksgiving story that every American grows up hearing before I realized that of course Thanksgiving isn’t celebrated outside of America (although Canada does have its own version, which is celebrated in October). When I realized that there would be no celebration here, I grew a little worried. After all, last year, I stayed on Goucher’s campus and ate Kraft macaroni and cheese for Thanksgiving—which was delicious, of course, but it was still a little bit depressing to be alone for a holiday traditionally meant for celebrating time with family while eating as much turkey as possible and watching football and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
I talked to some of the other visiting American students at Oxford, and they told me that the college hosts a small dinner for the visiting students, but we were all a little bit skeptical. Still, we all booked a seat at the dinner, and on the evening of Thanksgiving, we dressed up in our “smart casual” attire and marched into the college dining hall like we owned the place—after all, it was our holiday.
A few British students managed to book the dinner or to get invited, and for many of them, it was their first Thanksgiving. I even saw one of my tutors, and when I asked him if he had ever celebrated the holiday before, he said “No, but it’s quite lovely.” I will admit that it felt genuinely baffling to hear that a 30-something man had never celebrated Thanksgiving before.
Still, I think that it was actually quite nice that many of the British people at my table had never celebrated Thanksgiving before. They were all so excited, and as the Americans regaled them with the tale of the Native Americans who taught the colonists to bury fish with their corn seeds to make the corn grow, there was a sense of wonder and awe that doesn’t really exist in America, where everyone has already been celebrating Thanksgiving for years. One of my Dutch friends made a particularly interesting comment when he realized there was a ten-year-old boy in attendance, a guest of one of the tutors: “It’s so cool that he gets to be here and celebrate this at such a young age!” All of a sudden, Thanksgiving didn’t feel like something that I’ve done twenty times—it felt like a really special occasion, an American tradition that I got to share with my new European friends who knew nothing about the holiday meant for celebrating connections between people and for being thankful for all the good things in life.
At Mansfield College, there is a phrase that is said before every meal: “No good thing is worth having unless it is shared with others.” I find that it is a fitting phrase for many occasions, but I think that it particularly applied to this Thanksgiving. My twentieth Thanksgiving was the first Thanksgiving for many of my friends, and I didn’t spend it in America, but it was still the happiest Thanksgiving that I’ve celebrated, and that’s because I shared it—and a little piece of American culture—with a host of new friends.