University College Cork ambassador, Audrey Ruth-Noelle Dearing from Metro Detroit, Michigan, looks back on celebrating Thanksgiving 2012 in Ireland.
Thanksgiving is one of the few American traditions with no Irish equivalent, and by the time November rolled around my classmates were definitely interested. It wouldn’t be correct to say that Irish people haven’t heard of Thanksgiving; they’ve seen enough TV shows and movies for that – but they’re not entirely clear on what exactly it entails.
“Okay so I know it’s something to do with Pilgrims… Actually what’s a Pilgrim?”
“Do you give each other presents?”
“You just eat? What do you mean you just eat? Typical American holiday.”
Despite being fuzzy on the details of Thanksgiving, my Irish friends knew they wanted to have one. They knew there was turkey and pies and possibly Pilgrims, and that was good enough for them. The day after Halloween, I started getting questions on when was Thanksgiving, what was Thanksgiving, how was Thanksgiving celebrated. After a quick Google search on what day it was that year, I set the date and set my menu for ten guests.
I worked full-time in the lab for my final year project, so the week of Thanksgiving I asked my supervisor for the day off to prepare, which he was more than happy to do on the condition I brought in leftovers. I went straight to the English Market, a beautiful Cork institution of fresh local meats, vegetables, bakeries, cheeses, and a few cafes. Originally the site of a market in 1788 and the current building built in 1862, it is easily the most memorable and gorgeous place to buy food in Ireland, and I venture to say it’d be hard to find a place in America that could challenge it.
In the morning, I went to my favourite poultry stall and picked up a massive 22 pound turkey that I had ordered earlier in the week and staggered home with it. I live very close to the English Market, but the usual five minute walk turned into fifteen as I staggered and panted to get my bird home. I spent 7 hours slowly roasting it with my homemade stuffing – the fresh, lovely bread which I had gotten at the English Market the day before.
At around 6 o’clock, my friends started to file in as they finished at their own labs for the day, dressed smartly in suits and dresses (their own idea) proudly presenting the food that they had made. Some things were ideas for “stereotypical Thanksgiving food” that I had given them recipes for (green bean casserole, butternut squash) and others had brought in food with their own Irish twist (Clonakilty sausage stuffing).
As the food emerged from the kitchen where it was being kept warm, everyone made a loving fuss over each others culinary creations and the size of the turkey and how well everyone looked. They managed to patiently listen to at least most of Alice’s Restaurant by Artho Gunthrie (a family tradition) and bravely tried eggnog. They exalted over the pumpkin pie (made from the canned pumpkin which I felt extremely clever for unearthing in the English Market) and lamented the size of their stomachs.
At the end of the night, as we sentimentally sang along to Fairy Tale of New York by the Pogues, the quintessential Irish Christmas song, Thanksgiving was given the official stamp of Irish approval. “It’s just like Christmas without presents,” they asserted, smug that they had unravelled the mystery, “and in a way that’s better. Just friends and food and banter.”
“And leftovers,” they added.
Yes, and leftovers, which they were sent home with in abundance. But mostly friends and banter.