Thanksgiving: A Day That Never Existed

By: Andrea Bouchaud

Well… in France, I mean. The French are always fascinated by le thanksgiving (pronounced le ‘tanks’giving in a French accent). It is a day that has such a huge historical and cultural significance in the United States but they don’t know why. In speaking with French friends of similar age, I found out that early American history is not taught to French students. A recent conversation with a young French person confirmed the mystery surrounding this day when he said he thought Thanksgiving was the word Americans used for Christmas Eve!

As born and bred Americans, we can be unaccustomed to someone not knowing the history and current traditions of Thanksgiving because we know it so well. It’s important to remember that it is unique to us and our history. When I studied abroad in Paris, my program director tried to make the American students feel at home by having a potluck Thanksgiving dinner at her house. It was a very nice thought but all the details weren’t exactly right. The American students brought things like cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and stuffing. Don’t get me wrong the turkey and food was good… but it wasn’t the same.

Maybe it tasted different because there was no significance to the meal. It was a normal Thursday in late November in France and not a day  when 2 different peoples came to together in peace to share a bountiful feast, if only temporarily. There were no turkey and pilgrim decorations in every store; no commercials on TV to announce up coming sales; no big parades; no palpable holiday cheer in the air. Thanksgiving is a day that never existed in France. It’s a weird feeling to be somewhere in the world on day that has held cultural meaning to you all your life and now means nothing to those around you. Fascinate your French classmates and friends by explaining to them the history of Thanksgiving up to current traditions of eating, sleeping, watching football games and then getting ready to shop at midnight for Black Friday. They will be amazed and will help you recognize your cultural tradition in the process.

If you’re studying abroad today, I hope that a little Thanksgiving finds its way towards you.


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