Thanksgiving in London
Thanksgiving is tomorrow! I have been looking forward to it all semester and now it’s almost here. I’m so ready for a day of laughs, friends, American music, Thanksgiving day TV, and good food.
We have nearly 20 people coming to our house this year for Thanksgiving, which is nearly double what we had last year, but we are armed with an army plan and a schedule. With just one oven, we’re going to do our best to cook all the sides and a full turkey. Wish us luck.
Thanksgiving last year was thrown together so quickly but it ended up being my favorite event of that semester and one of my favorite events of the entire year.
Camden had invited Alex and I to take a day in Camden Markets strolling, shopping, and seeing the Christmas markets. I was thrilled because it was the first time that someone in this country had invited me to just go hang out. It was a lovely day and the three of us really solidified our friendship as we walked through the adorable stalls.
We talked about a number of different things, specifically what we were going to be doing for Thanksgiving that year. It was the Sunday before and none of us had really figured out what we were going to do. We decided to do whatever it was together.
American society at King’s College London was hosting a dinner but we didn’t know anyone else going. It was a potluck and we didn’t really want to have a clinical Thanksgiving held in a random hall with everyone bringing random food in tupperware. I’m sure it would have been lovely, but we wanted something different.
By the end of the day, as we sat on the couch at what later became my church in London, we decided that we had to introduce the Europeans to Thanksgiving. We would host Thanksgiving together. It would be held at my house and would be a whole day affair as we shopped in the morning, cooked in the afternoon, and ate in the evening.
We invited everyone we knew, which wasn’t very many people at the time. But most of the people that ended up coming became some of my best friends.
Thursday started out bright and early as everyone invaded my flat, leaving their jackets and bags in my room and anything we planned on using in the kitchen. It was such a small University accommodation kitchen, but mine was the biggest and most centrally located, so it was what we had to use.
We set off to the large Sainsbury’s (a major grocery chain here in London) and ran around making sure we had everything we needed for every dish we were trying to cook that day. We must’ve had eight baskets full and we split up the groceries to pay for at the end.
Walking back to my flat with all those bags was horrible and painful, so that’s why we chose to order the ingredients to our flat for this Thanksgiving.
It was a flurry of activity in my kitchen as we all went about cooking different things. We chopped, skinned, and arranged everything we had just bought.
I was in charge of cooking the turkey, which meant that my Dad was in charge of cooking the turkey via Skype. It turned out great in the end.
Alex was in charge of mostly everything else, simply because she’s a fantastic cook and a great leader. She handed out jobs one after the other and soon we were all working as a well oiled machine.
Well, almost. There were a lot of mishaps and hilarious moments as we tried to maneuver in the tiny area. Between people trying to do their jobs and people dancing to the loud American music playing, there was a lot of bumping into each other.
Alex also had the best playlist for the day. She had nearly every American classic lined up on Spotify so we were all dancing and bopping around all day as we cooked. It was like an all day party as we prepared for the evening.
We also found a way to set up my laptop so we could stream the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It was a very backwards way, through a VPN and random streaming network, both that we did free trials for, but it was enough to have it playing in the background.
And after that, I found a way to stream the American football game.
We’ll be finding a way to stream both of those again this year as well as Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving, Modern Family thanksgiving episodes, John Mulaney comedy routines, and anything else Thanksgiving themed that we consider crucial to American culture.
The turkey actually ended up really well. My dad’s instructions mixed with my execution and our friend Tommy’s amazing ability to help me hold the turkey in place ended up working in the end. It took nearly all day, but the turkey was cooked all the way through, the meat was moist, and the skin was crisp. The stuffing inside ended up great as well.
Another one of my favorite moments was the screaming that happened as we went to flip the turkey and the mayhem that it cause as we attempted to fully turn it halfway through cooking.
Finding ovens were a bit of an issue. The turkey took up the entire oven, as it will again this year, but we thought we’d end up having enough time to cook everything. I ended up having to beg someone else I knew that lived in the building to let us use their oven.
They were gracious enough to let us continually invade their kitchen and we were able to get everything finished.
At the beginning of the day, I had resigned myself to knowing that two things would fail. We had thrown this together so quickly that I figured if I accepted that at the start, then I wouldn’t be disappointed if it happened and I’d be thrilled if everything went according to plan.
In the end almost nothing failed, which made the day even sweeter.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t make green bean casserole which we always have for Thanksgiving in Pennsylvania because this country doesn’t sell fried onions and we had no way to replicate that. So we just made the green beans and onions normally and had them as a nice side. So, not even that truly failed.
It was amazing to watch the European’s reactions to certain American foods, particularly the very sweet holiday foods. They didn’t know why were cutting up marshmallows and were baffled when we explained it would top the sweet potatoes. They watched in horrified amazement as we poured sugar into maple syrup to make the filling for the pecan pie.
Certain things are just classic American and the Europeans just couldn’t understand it. They loved the food, but were so confused. I loved watching it.
By dinner time, we had turkey, two different kinds of stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffed mushrooms, steamed green beans, sweet potatoes, pecan pie, and brownies.
All the food had turned out really wonderfully, which surprised us all since the event had been just thrown together. But it was so so good. We put all the food out on the kitchen table, everyone pulled out the plates we asked them to bring (because I had only two plates in my kitchen), and we loaded our plates.
We sat around on the dingey couches and on the not totally clean floor in my student accommodation and smushed in so everyone could fit. We sat laughing and eating the food we had spent all day making.
After, everyone helped us do the dishes and we packed up all the leftovers in tupperware we had. There was so much leftover, we had to beg people to take it home with them. Then we sat back down for dessert and more wine.
Another American Thanksgiving Day tradition is to go around the circle saying what we’re thankful for, so we made all of our friends indulge this and make short speeches. It was mostly the same, being thankful for friends and an amazing day and family however far away.
Mine was short, mainly saying that I was thankful for my family who sent me to London, the fact that I was settling in okay, and the new friends I made who agreed to be crazy and host a Thanksgiving last minute. But I had so much to be thankful for.
I didn’t really know it then, but I quickly realized that Thanksgiving day was the moment I began to feel like I would be okay in London. That I would make friends and settle in.
I’m so thankful for Thanksgiving last year. I look back on it now as the best event of first semester and a day that solidified my relationship with some of my favorite people in London.
And the two girls I hosted with last year are now my flatmates and my family in London.
This year, we have so many more people than last year coming to Thanksgiving. Some of them are my best friends who I hadn’t even met this time last year. I’m so excited to introduce them to American Thanksgiving, shock them with some of our food habits, and laugh and dance with them as we cook all day.
I’m excited that nearly all the people I love on this side of the ocean are coming together to support us three random Americans (my two flatmates and I) and celebrate being together.
So much has changed since last year; so much for the better. I’m so thankful to God for putting these people in my life and for giving me a reason to be so excited for this Thursday.
I can’t wait for Thanksgiving, I know it’s going to be another day I’ll look back on and love.