This blog post was written by our trainee Jenny Ba, originally from France.
Participating in a training program in NYC over wintertime was probably the best decision I have ever made. I got the opportunity to celebrate not only Halloween but also one of the most popular traditions in the U.S.: Thanksgiving.
Since Thanksgiving is not celebrated in France/Europe, I only had a vague idea of what to expect, except for a large dinner with everyone starring at an enormous turkey! The only knowledge that I had of Thanksgiving
mainly came from the American TV programs that always release an episode dedicated to Thanksgiving: friends and family members gather around a huge feast and the scenario would either depict a big fight, a happy ending where everyone hugs each other or even sometimes a homeless or lonely person would be kindly invited to join the celebration.
I was willing to expand my basic knowledge of Thanksgiving and investigated a little further. I soon discovered that Thanksgiving was more than just a dinner — it always happens on the last Thursday of November in the U.S. and was originally designed to celebrate a fruitful harvest. It became a holiday in 1863 and now symbolizes the Holiday season kick-off -that I am dying to experience! American people take Thanksgiving very seriously and it seems to be as important as Christmas. Most offices close on the day after Thanksgiving or people take the day off to either travel to visit their family or to go shopping on the occasion of the biggest sales day of the year: Black Friday. And finally, I found out that the City of New York has been organizing a Thanksgiving parade for the last 85 years.
The event — called the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade — mainly features floats and people dressed up in costumes. There are also some Broadway performers –including this year Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) and the so-famous gigantic balloons. My colleagues recommended to me that I attend the parade but also another traditional event: the inflation of the balloons that occurs on the night before Thanksgiving near Central Park. This sounded like a one-time opportunity that I could not miss!
The night before Thanksgiving, my German friend and I decided to check on the balloons inflating and quickly realized that despite the cold, many people had had the same idea as us. The streets were overcrowded but we could not help smiling and being happy to be there: the atmosphere was very joyful, some cheerful music was being played in the background and children were spreading their excitement around. 77th Street was hosting a dozen huge balloons of famous cartoons characters. I was impressed by the size of the balloons and found them very cute. We walked along the street trying to guess which character was coming next and failed a couple of times. Some must have been typical American characters because we had no clue who they were or had never seen them before. My favorite one was definitely Sonic the Hedgehog… Old memories!
On Thanksgiving Day or Turkey Day, as commonly called by Americans, my friends and I headed to the 85th Macy Thanksgiving Day Parade around 11 am. The parade started at 9 am down Central Park West and ended up at 12 pm conveniently close to our place on West 34th Street at Macy's. Getting a good spot around Macy's turned out to be a tricky challenge but we eventually managed to stand on the steps of Penn Station on 32nd Street and could see all the balloons flying one after the other. It felt like traveling back to childhood seeing all these cartoon characters flying around! Children were hysterical, especially when Santa Clause appeared on his float. I found it very 'American' that Ronald McDonald was part of the parade and how children adore him: He is for sure an icon over here! We were lucky to stand close to the end of the parade since people dressed up in funny attire from the parade — such as pool balls or 'little soldiers' — were walking past us to make their way home.
Time to Eat!
As much as my friends and I enjoyed the Parade, our stomachs were longing for some roasted turkey. The residence where we live was throwing an appetizing Thanksgiving lunch. The dining room was decorated for the occasion and the menu was offering far too much than my stomach could possibly handle. The food was pretty similar to what I had seen on TV or read about in the Top Ten Thanksgiving Dinner Dishes blog. We had the essential turkey, some gravy, corn stuffing, beans, parsnips and mashed potatoes. The desserts consisted of a pumpkin pie, an apple pie, a mince pie and some vanilla cream served along with apple cider. All this was obviously far too much! Surrounded by my friends and enjoying a delicious meal, I could not have imagined a better way to celebrate Thanksgiving. And it was not over; we had a long day ahead and could not wait!
Earlier in November, I shared with my friend my only regret about Thanksgiving: not being able to cook. The cooking preparation seemed to be an important part in the tradition and I was sad not to have a kitchen since I usually enjoy the cooking more than the digestion. Luckily enough, one of our friends offered to have dinner at her place in New Jersey while watching a few DVDs (the Twilight Saga). I instantly volunteered to be the cook. A couple of my friends were feeling bitter not to have tasted any pumpkin soup since Fall and I offered to make a pumpkin soup with garlic bread -I figured out we would need a light dinner after the feast. The host, who was German, was in charge of the dessert: an apple strudel.
After lunch, my friends and I took the train to New Jersey and started the cooking preparation. Dinner closed our Thanksgiving Day… but the night was still young for some shopaholics.
Black Friday (actually starts on Thursday)
We returned to Manhattan at 12:30 am and run into a line made of hundreds of people in front of the Old Navy store on West 34th Street. 'Are they seriously queuing to buy clothes at that time of the night?!' We realized that Black Friday was on! On that particular day, stores are open from Thursday at 10 pm or from Friday at 4 am. We were by far too tired to venture to any shops at this hour of the night.
Nevertheless, being adventurous and always eager to make the most of my traveling experiences, I decided to fully live the Thanksgiving tradition and be part of the Black Friday frenetic crowd. I went to what was probably the busiest store in Manhattan: Macy's. There were an incredibly amount of people there but I managed to find my way and dug out some interesting deals. The sales were amazing and I could have easily spent too much money!
At the end of the day, I was pretty satisfied with the way this entire Thanksgiving thing went. I still believe that participating in your host country traditions is the best way to get to know it and to become a part of it. I am content that I got the opportunity to experience my first Thanksgiving experience in the U.S. and will certainly host and cook from A to Z a Thanksgiving dinner next year no matter where I am in the world!