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The Real Meaning of Thanksgiving

What is the real meaning of Thanksgiving? For J&J mom Carrie, it’s not about the cornbread and pumpkin pie – a lesson she learned when she moved to Inverness, Scotland.
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Being an American citizen and living abroad for ten years has brought many challenges – missing family and friends is top of that list. But there are other things I miss that I would never have expected.

When I first got married and moved to Inverness, Scotland, newly-married to a Highlander Scotsman, it didn’t occur to me that I would end up missing Thanksgiving. It has always been the most important holiday in the year to me: a time for remembering what partnership and hard work bring you; for taking time to slow down and be truly grateful for the gifts of family and friendship (and corn. Thanksgiving is nothing without corn and corn bread). So I thought I would just have Thanksgiving in Scotland just like I did at home. How different could it be?

I learned it would be very different indeed. Although the UK and the US are similar in many ways, when it comes to cultural traditions like Thanksgiving, I might as well be living on the moon! I quickly learned that having a big dinner with my husband’s family wasn’t going to be enough to capture the spirit (especially since bowls of corn and corn bread are unheard of here. Can you imagine?). With an impression of Thanksgiving forged entirely from TV shows and movies, the reactions I received were:

“It has something to do with Indians, right?”

“There’s a parade or something, isn’t there?”

“Don’t you just eat some turkey?”

While all of those things are parts of Thanksgiving, none of them is the essence of Thanksgiving. It is more than turkey, or a parade, or knowing about pilgrims – or even corn. It is so much more special than that –it is one day where the whole country is engaged in the act of thoughtfulness. Sure, it’s padded out with football games and pumpkin pies (also unheard of in Scotland!). But the essence is of being one, of being together, of being thankful.

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So it’s a challenge to capture that essence while living in a country that has no similar day of reflection and thankfulness. I tried valiantly, year upon year, to make “Thanksgiving” happen. But it somehow was never right. It was just always missing something, something more than the corn and pumpkin pie.

It wasn’t until we had our first child, Joseph, that I felt the stirrings of Thanksgiving return. Sharing it with our son that first year, even though he was only 11 months old, I felt a murmur in my heart telling me that Thanksgiving was about THIS, that THIS was what had been missing – passing on the meaning of something so important to me, to my American-ness, with my own child. And with every passing year, I’m amazed at how sharing this tradition with him strengthens for me the meaning of Thanksgiving.

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Although my family, which now includes a second boy named Noah, celebrates it on Saturday (interestingly, I don’t get to have Thursday and Friday off just because I’m American!), we hold that day sacred to pause life’s chaos and truly be together – to cook dinner, to watch video of the parade on the computer, to make turkey hand prints and feathered head dresses, and, most importantly, to be thankful for our enormous bounty.

And to eat corn. Never forget the corn.

Carrie Watts has worked at LifeScan Scotland for almost as long as she’s lived in Inverness. She’s currently a Content Labelling Specialist in the Global Packaging & Labelling Department. Carrie is a native Upstate New Yorker and the mommy of two amazing, bright and terribly exhausting boys.

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