How Do You Say Thanksgiving in French?
It turns out there is no real translation of Happy Thanksgiving in French, but I am thankful for a memorable Turkey Day spent thousands of miles away from home that taught me not only to appreciate the holiday, but my American culture as well.
I had always taken Thanksgiving for granted. Macy’s Parade, Grandma’s fluorescent orange gravy, perfectly circular cranberry sauce – there was a comfort in the repetition from year to year. When I studied abroad during my junior year of college, I had given little thought to what it would mean to spend the holiday away from my family, in another country where not only was the holiday not celebrated; there wasn’t even a name for it.
As the holiday neared, I saw the folly in my nonchalance. Many many miles away and six hours ahead of my family, I realized, much to my surprise, what an important place the holiday held in my cultural framework. I’d spent the first part of the semester quietly ashamed of my Americanness, convinced the French way of doing things was infinitely better. But as the 4th Thursday in November neared, I started thinking about turkey, and stuffing, and how much I actually really enjoyed taking a whole day to cook and eat and be with family and be thankful. This was an American tradition I could fully get behind.
When I studied abroad during my junior year of college, I had given little thought to what it would mean to spend the holiday away from my family, in another country where not only was the holiday not celebrated; there wasn’t even a name for it.
Luckily, my study abroad program in Aix-en-Provence had anticipated such a sentiment, and arranged for a Thanksgiving celebration for all of the students and their host families. Classes were cancelled on Thursday, and we students spent the whole day in the program center’s kitchen, prepping the stuffing and sweet potatoes under the watchful eyes of a proper French chef.
Chopping celery and onions in the kitchen with my fellow students, I realized, for the first time, how special the holiday really was. There were facets of American culture I was not proud of, certainly, and somehow those had taken precedence in my mind during my brief sojourn abroad. But that day, I was reminded of the many positive things that make up my culture, and I began to feel just a little bit proud.
The Thanksgiving feast that evening was unlike any I had ever enjoyed before. It makes sense if you think about it: this is the American holiday all about food; the French are experts at food. Therefore, Thanksgiving in France must necessarily be epic. Alongside the turkey, stuffing, and sweet potatoes, the French families brought quiche, tarte tatin, beaujolais, and brie. I learned that the French had no appreciation whatsoever for pumpkin pie (why would you cook a pumpkin thus?), but they did appreciate taking a moment to be thankful for the blessings in our lives.
At that memorable Thanksgiving, I was incredibly thankful for so many things: for having the opportunity to study abroad; for living with a host family that was so welcoming. And, for the first time, I was thankful to be American, and to be able to share this unique holiday with new friends many thousands of miles from home.
Top photo credit: Bo Jayatilaka