Thanksgiving (not) In America

Thanksgiving in America is, to some degree, my favorite holiday. It does not involve lots of gift shopping (if you chose to buy into that) as Christmas does. Rather it is a time to gather with family and friends to celebrate by sharing a meal. The history of the holiday and the exact date is disputed. Growing up I heard about it as a holiday when the ‘settlers’ celebrated with theNative Americans in a peaceful manner. As I recently researched there seems to be some controversy about that. The link above suggests that it was for giving thanks for the successful first harvest of the ‘settlers’.

Regardless, I have always felt it originated from the peaceful celebration with the natives who shared their knowledge, traditions and land and accepted the Europeans. Directly or indirectly as seen through history the actual fact of the celebration marked the beginning of the mass execution of the people and the culture of the Native Americans.

As you can see I have a very soft spot for the Native Americans in my heart because I so respect their rituals and attitudes about the land and each other. This is not to say that they, as any culture, do not have problems but I have always wondered if they were honored, respected and not destroyed as a culture how our world would be different. Some tribes had nomadic beliefs. When they moved they left the earth unmarked and did not devastate an area as the ‘settlers’ had. They showed constant respect for the mother world.

Anyway, being so far away from family tends to make me ‘home sick’ for the traditions (and food!) that Thanksgiving Day brings. Many times I’ve enjoyed spending days organizing, cooking and setting up for this celebration. It is a time when family and friends can gather to relax, celebrate and (over) eat. I recall as a kid waking up and smelling my mother’s cooking filling the house as she began to sauté for the stuffing. I would get up and go directly to the TV to watch the Macy’s Day Parade. It was as much of the holiday as was watching football all afternoon and evening. I was not much of a sports fan but to have a hardy meal then to lie flat on the couch (and nap) and watch the game has been a tradition all my life. One could also argue that making a turkey sandwich the next day was as good (or better) than the actual Thanksgiving Day meal.

As there are many Americans here in Croatia (and for that matter elsewhere in the world) during this holiday I often find that there are kind souls that like to celebrate in the traditional manor. My hosts’ Bob and Chris who work at the US Embassy spent many days (and manyKuna) in order to prepare for this celebration. They cooked two turkeys (Butterballs imported from North Carolina in the US)(‘Because the Croatian turkeys don’t taste the same’ Chris said) and had all the ‘fix’ins’ as we called it. The ‘fix’ins’ included: stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, two cranberry dishes, a wonderful bean salad and a few more. Dessert included pumpkin pie (of course with whipped cream), pecan pie, a wonderful tart, pumpkin bread and more. Of course there were many appetizers with eggnog, warm cider and wine when we arrived. To try to make it as authentic as possible Chris also tried to download an American football game but he did not have the proper connection.

There was also a photographer from ‘Ice & Pice’ Croatia’s gourmet food magazine (it means eating & drinking) who was there at the start of the meal to photograph a ‘traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Be sure to follow the link to the magazine to see the photos when they are published.

So much of my photographic work in Croatia has involved looking at the time I am here and wanting to not only make photographs of what I saw but I’ve also been obsessed with the concept of ritual and how we go through life often times without noticing insignificant or mundane events of our lives. I am constantly aware of how fortunate and privileged I am when I consider how many people in the world are out of work, homeless, suffering from abuse or in the middle of a war brought about by foreign interests. For me all of this awareness has been the result of my interest in travel and my curiosity (and questioning) of how we treat our world and all that inhabit it. Through traveling and through my lens I have become very thankful of what I have and was reminded again this Thanksgiving through the generosity of new friends.

Before I went to Chris’ house I was thinking that I would meet many people (I had not met Chris before this event), share a meal and leave with a full stomach and fond memories. What would remain for me beyond that are photographs. It is the way of my life and photographs offer a physical glimpse of what was. I learn so much by using the camera. Years from now the feeling of this event will remain but some of the edges will soften. If a picture is worth a thousand words then what are 786 pictures worth? For me this illustrates the dance of life that, beyond Thanksgiving, makes up our collective conciseness of the planet.