Thanksgiving, with a dash of France for good measure, makes for an interesting evening.
In the weeks leading up to November 23rd, I spend the majority of my in-class time describing the voyage of the Mayflower and attempting to purge the word "Indians" from the students' English vocabulary (No, Indians are people from India. The country India. They are called N-A-T-I-V-E A-M-E-R-I-C-A-N-S: Who knew Christopher Columbus could cause so much trouble for an American English teacher in France in the 21st Century?). Never have I been so informed on the ins-and-outs of the harvest feast of the Pilgrims - honestly, never have I cared so little. One can only take so many questions about why Indians (No Clare, Native Americans) wore feathers in their hair or why we stuff a turkey. By the time Thanksgiving rolled around, I took very little notice. I worked all day, talked to Mom and Dad online, ate a bag of rice and some cider, and watched many episodes of Jeeves and Wooster on my computer. An all around normal day. I didn't realize that I really missed the holiday until the following Saturday night.
As I have mentioned before, one of my schools is comprised of mostly young teachers who like to socialize together. So, in part to say good-bye to Camilla (my landlady who is now on house-rest for the rest of her pregnancy and former colleague) and in part to experience the holiday right (read: make use of the resident expert, moi), most of the English teachers came over for a true Thanksgiving dinner... well, as true as one can get in France.
Camilla and I put our heads together - alright, she planned and I confirmed that she was on the right path - to create a real feast. Each teacher brought a "traditional" Thanksgiving dish; we had a stuffed turkey, cranberry sauce, candied yams, gravy, pumpkin pie, mushroom quiche (?), corn crepes (??), and pate (???).
I had one responsibility: pumpkin pie. This caused me one real problem: how the heck do you make a pumpkin pie without pre-made pumpkin pie mix in a can? In this situation I did what any sensible, mildly kitchen skilled, modern girl would do - find a recipe on the internet and pass it off as Grandma's. In the end, it turned out perfect and wasn't too hard. It just required advanced prep. You have to put the pumpkin in the oven for six hours until the top flops in, cut it into quarters, scrape out the insides, and freeze the remainder. The rest is just like with the canned mix, only I had to find out what is included in "all spice." A piece of cake! My only critique came from one of the children present (6 years-old) whose face squinched into a tiny little ball of disgust almost the instant the pie hit his inexperienced tongue. But I will chalk this up to the exotic-ness of the pie in general and safely declare a victory.
Before heading to the main house I reflected on the event that would soon occur. For having celebrated Thanksgiving faithfully and well every year of my life, I had never had home-made cranberry sauce, stuffing, or pumpkin pie. Let's face it, I and most Americans use boxed stuffing (yum!), canned pumpkin mix (yum!), and canned gelled cranberry stuff that you giggle out of the can and slice (yum!); however, I did not have the heart to spoil the traditional image of Thanksgiving to the room full of excited French people. Again, I resorted to cries of "that's exactly like Grandma's" and "wow, you made that perfectly." It was not a lie - they all made amazing food that would put many people's Thanksgivings to shame! But when they wanted me to comment on the normalcy of the meal I grinned and responded, "Of Course!"
The party itself was good, except I have a problem understanding the French language when there are many people speaking at once. I mean, my French has improved exponentially, but much of my comprehension is based on hand gestures and mouth movements. Then after five hours of full-on French (not to mention a full belly), I hit a wall. You could say "Bonjour" and I would not be able to wrap my mind around this word's meaning! As the party was breaking up - just after midnight - I returned to my room and just flopped on the bed, unable to mentally process the need for pjs and blankets. All capacity for language, even English, was exhausted.
Overall, the party was a success and I will always cherish it as the most unique in my experience. Geoff, a British DJ on VirginRadio.co.uk, said (I paraphrase) "If the whole country is worried about celebrating religious holidays and isolating certain groups, we should just adopt all secular and religious holidays from every country and people." His point is that we would have enough vacation days to always be celebrating something, but after this experience I realize how much fun it is to celebrate your holidays with others and visa versa.
P.S.: A general notice: next year, if you invite me to your Thanksgiving dinner, you can expect a home-made pumpkin pie. Just to put that out there, keep it in mind.