Happy Thanksgiving from America. It is a beautiful, sunny, crisp autumn day today. Jelly Bean and I have just returned from a good long walk in the park. We are snuggled up together in our favorite chair with a cup of hot tea for me and a biscuit for her. Our chair is pulled up close to the window, giving me a wonderful view of the garden, and letting her keep an eye on our neighbor’s Tabby cats. It’s a relaxing, peaceful, moment. Except for the banging and colorful language coming from the kitchen. My husband has taken possession of the kitchen this Thanksgiving Day. This is most unusual for him, and I don’t quite know what to expect, but it does give me time to contemplate the holiday and its traditions, especially the traditions with food.
To me this is one of the most interesting holidays we celebrate in America. Did you know that days of thanksgiving were first observed in America by the Spanish explorers and settlers in the 16th Century? The holiday we now observe dates from 1863 and Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation for a national day of thanksgiving during the American Civil War. President Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day came about thanks to a campaign initiated and led by the American writer and editor Sarah Buell Hale. Perhaps Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day had political overtones. It is just as well if it had; if politics is always local then food and wine is even more so. Thanksgiving Day here revolves around the ceremony of a ‘traditional,’ symbolic meal, with variations according to regional delicacies and family heritage.
I always thought Abraham Lincoln must have been something of a feminist; my husband certainly is, though that is not why he has taken to the kitchen today. Although there is something like a national ‘template’ for celebrating this day, time change, and so does how a day like this is observed. And like most holidays, every family or household has their own unique traditions. This year, with my husband in the kitchen, the tradition is about to be somewhat upended. You see, although he is a wonderful host, is quite accomplished and has numerous achievements, being a ‘foodie’ and chef is not among them. He made me solemnly promise to stay out of the kitchen, no matter what Jelly Bean and I hear coming from behind that closed door.
Jelly Bean and I have been wondering what is going on in there, but as a recovering restaurateur I can fairly well guess. In the interest of family peace and tranquility my thoughts are being directed elsewhere. They are running towards the marvelous texts I am reading and how ceremonial meals, like Thanksgiving Day, and the symbolism associated with food is often a central part of the stories. Everything, from ancient texts, to Prospero’s ethereal banquet, Hamlet’s ‘funeral meats,’ the many food-centric scenes in ‘Great Expectations,’ and Defoe’s recounting of large and small-scale agribusiness, have references to food. The traditions and cultural signs around it are omnipresent in this incredible art.
Come to think of it, there has always been a relationship between food and art, and a range of expression equal to the length of that relationship. Think of everything from Flemish still life painting to Cindy Sherman’s photographs. I am going to sit here with my collie dog and sip a cup of Lapsang Souchoong tea while contemplating the relationship between food and realism in literature, and food as a symbol in art. I think it deserves some thought. After all, it was important to my husband to be in the kitchen today, participating in this holiday tradition in a very tactile way. It is really about more than just the food. Like any good story, it is up to us to discover the narrative behind his kitchen odyssey, and how the expression and traditions with food help imbue the story with meaning. Austen’s Mrs. Bennet, fussing over her meals, might never be the same to me. Happiest Thanksgiving from America.
Caowrites is studying our BA English by distance learning in the USA.