Lonely Planet Writer

Home for the holiday

xybermatthewIt’s Thanksgiving in the United States and our Get Stuffed forum on Thorn Tree is overflowing with delicious threads about turkeys, table settings and twists on tradition.

I had a chat to one of our resident US community experts, nutraxfornerves, about what Thanksgiving means to her and how it's tied up with ideas of home and place.

What's your favourite thing about Thanksgiving?

That it's, for lack of a better word, such a "pure holiday." It's not a gift-giving occasion (no matter how much merchandisers try to make it so) or a time for patriotic speechifying, nor is it epitomized by drunken revelry and misbehavior.

It's about friends and family and sharing and laughing and keeping traditions and making new traditions. It's Grandma's turkey stuffing and Cousin Fred's cranberry apple pie and laughing about the time the stove died and you had to cook a whole dinner in the crockpot. It's congratulating John on his engagement and listening to Grandpa's tired jokes and admiring 4 year old Mary's drawing of a Pilgrim.

It's expanding the definition of friends & family to include anyone who might be left out.

And, it's one day when there is universal dispensation for the Sin of Gluttony.

Where's the best place in America to celebrate it?

Home. And where is "home"? It's not necessarily a house. Home is where the heart is. It might be Mom's house or Grandma's or Aunt Sophie's. It might be your own house as you begin your own family traditions. It might be the fanciest restaurant in town. It might be what happens when a group of single friends organize a Thanksgiving potluck. It might be a group of Americans who get together in some faraway place and create "home" as I've done in Argentina, Vietnam, and Ethiopia. It's wherever that mixture of friends and family and fun and tradition can be found.

I remember once we were having one of those office conversations about "What are you doing for Thanksgiving?" and a co-worker said that he and his mother were going to spend it at a gambling casino in South Lake Tahoe, Nevada.

We were appalled. "Come to our house." "No, come to MINE." "Let me call Mom right now and tell her that there will be two extra."

'No," he replied. "Ever since Dad died, Mom and I are the only family we have. We've been going to Tahoe for so long that it's now a tradition. We get to spend special time together, catch up on news, and have fun doing silly stuff. Even the turkey dinner at the casino buffet is a part of our tradition and we wouldn't have it any other way."

That's "home."

What advice would you give a traveller visiting the States experiencing their first ever Thanksgiving?

Go home. Not literally. I mean find a place with that sense of "home”.

Americans love to take in strangers for Thanksgiving. Ask. Obviously you don't want to demand that someone have you over for dinner, but tell people you meet that you are a visitor and what's Thanksgiving all about and where is a good place for dinner? If you are religious, talking to worshipers after a service is a great place to meet hospitable people. They may even have an "adopt a stranger" program.

Many places have communal dinners for college students or the military or others who can't make it home for Thanksgiving. Check with universities, ask around at a hostel, call a church synagogue or other religious center, check the local newspaper. Maybe your consulate does something or knows about a gathering. Do a Google search for "name of city" Thanksgiving communal dinner.

I've seen suggestions that visitors might want to serve at a soup kitchen or a food bank on Thanksgiving. Most of those places have more help than they can use on Thanksgiving Day itself, but might be desperate a few days before or a few days after. If you have a bit of spare change, you can always find out what is needed and hit the supermarket.

Or, create your own "home." Round up folks at the hostel or ask around at the resort or any other spot where visitors gather. Go to a restaurant or have a picnic or just cook in the hotel kitchen. Talk about where you come from and what your family traditions are. Share what you are thankful for.

And drink a toast to "There's No Place Like Home."

Thanks nutrax! Happy Thanksgiving to all our community members and travellers. Tell us what you’re up to for the season? Does your country have anything similar to Thanksgiving?

[Photo: xybermatthew]