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Taking a bit of Thanksgiving to England

An English rose in Georgia

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POSTED: November 28, 2013 2:05 p.m.

My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving, which might be considered strange as I obviously did not grow up with this tradition back in England.
Since becoming a naturalized American citizen, this holiday time of year has become even more meaningful to me. I must say that a holiday which is purely designed to give thanks and spend time with loved ones over a delicious meal appeals to me at every level.
We have developed our own mixed culture traditions since moving to Coastal Georgia four years ago, and we celebrate with dear friends who live in Atlanta. I am truly very thankful that my best friend from college days in England has amazingly ended up living in Georgia as well (her through work and me through marriage). We cook, laugh and talk all day and it is really wonderful.
With hindsight, I think it must have been very hard for my American-born husband to miss celebrating Thanksgiving on so many occasions during the early years of our marriage when we lived in London.
In the U.K., late November is an incredibly busy time in the business world as people are trying to fit a lot into their diaries before the extended Christmas holidays, and our various commitments usually prevented us from making the trip to the U.S. for the Thanksgiving holiday.
The British are aware of American Thanksgiving traditions. But in a frantic London with Christmas decorations everywhere, it usually passes most people by.
However, the years of World War II were an exception. I came across a fascinating book by Thomas Fleming, former president of the Society of American Historians, called “An American Feast: Six Memorable Thanksgivings.”
Fleming writes of the first pilgrim Thanksgiving, two during the American Revolutionary War, one during the Civil War, the linking of Thanksgiving with Christmas shopping during the later stages of the Great Depression, and the celebration of Thanksgiving in England during World War II.
It was this last one I found the most moving: “An English Thanksgiving” in 1942. In November that year, American troops were stationed all over the U.K. to help defend the British against a possible German invasion and were making preparations for an assault on Nazi-occupied Europe.
These American soldiers, a long way from home, wanted to demonstrate their holiday celebrations to their host country and I was fascinated to learn these facts about that year’s Thanksgiving:
• Merchant ships had carried tons of frozen turkey across the submarine infested Atlantic for the big day, but the American troops donated it all to the thousands of British war wounded.
• One American officer sat in the pew once occupied by the legendary Miles Standish, the military leader of the pilgrims who travelled to America, in a small parish church in Chorley, Lancashire, where the town also flew the Stars and Stripes on Thanksgiving Day
• A U.S. Army detachment stood at attention at Southampton pier, where the legendary Mayflower was fitted out for her trans-Atlantic voyage
• In London at Westminster Abbey, a special Thanksgiving ceremony was held for American troops with the American flag draped on the high altar, the singing of “America the Beautiful” and the reading of a brief message from President Franklin D. Roosevelt by the U.S. Ambassador to Britain.
So, with roots going all the way back to 1621, when those earliest pilgrims from England celebrated their survival and first successful harvest with the Native American Wampanoag, tomorrow we give thanks.
Although some of the traditions have changed and evolved over the centuries, the basic underlying sentiments have not.
I leave you with a great quote from former White House Press Secretary and political columnist, Tony Snow: “If you think Independence Day is America’s defining holiday, think again. Thanksgiving deserves that title, hands-down.”
Happy Thanksgiving, and God Bless America!

Francis grew up in London, England, and moved to Richmond Hill in 2009. She can be contacted at lesley@francis.com or www.lesleyfrancispr.com.

 

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