The first time I celebrated American Thanksgiving was in November 2019. I had been living in Indiana for less than six months, and the entire holiday captivated all of my senses. I decided there and then that I was stealing Thanksgiving.
I left my home country of Ireland just under 12 years ago. Not traveling too far, I crossed the Irish ocean to England. Despite living a one-hour flight from Belfast, my hometown, the culture shock was real. It was, as described, a shock! I lived in a small commuter village just 40 minutes south of London. The English found me difficult to understand with a thick Belfast brogue and vernacular. At times I was mocked, and my Irish first name did me no favors. I was often asked if I had a nickname or if I would consider changing my name to an English version. Of course, it was not all bad. I fell in love with the English countryside, London, and Brighton, the bohemian seaside town in the South East of the country. I began an interest in the English monarchy and a fascination with their colonial past, which included their occupation of Ireland for more than 800 years. While living in England, I witnessed the marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton, Queen Elizabeth’s 60th coronation, and the 2012 London Olympics. I began appreciating Barbour and Hunter and enjoying the lashings of clotted cream on my scone during Afternoon Tea. When we decided to move to Germany three and a half years later, I took these newly appreciated cultural traits with me.
Moving to Germany, the culture shock was less surprising but still present. Discovering the German traditions and attributes was a bit more difficult due to the language barrier, but we got there eventually. We enjoyed the logical German mindset and the bluntness of how they expressed themselves. We discovered their love of a great Bratwurst and Schnitzel while being fascinated by the burning of a snowman to signify the end of Winter. Their talent of making bread added a few pounds to our waistlines, and their low-cost grocery stores with the famous ‘Aisle of shame’ provided hours of entertainment. When my daughter was one year old, a neighbor explained Sankt Nikolaus Tag (Feast of St. Nicholas). Sankt Nikolaus Tag is celebrated on the 6th of December when a Santa lookalike leaves chocolate, fruit, and nuts into a boot placed on the family doorstep the evening before. This was not a holiday celebrated in the UK or Ireland and was new to our family; however, it became part of our family traditions. Essentially, we ‘stole’ Sankt Nikolaus Tag. We have celebrated it every year since.
During our travels, we stole holidays and traditions from every country we resided in. I always assumed we would celebrate the traditional Irish holidays, but here we were, picking and choosing unfamiliar holidays and sewing them into the fabric of our family. We were creating a new McConnell heritage that was unique only to us. By the time we moved to Indiana in 2019, we were fully aware of and committed to these new traditions. I was excited to add another foreign holiday to our calendar.
In November 2019, a mere four months into living at our new American address, I celebrated Thanksgiving. My mother’s brother moved to the USA in the late 90s and married my American aunt. As our only family in the USA, they invited us to celebrate Thanksgiving at their home in the suburbs of Washington, DC. I was familiar with Thanksgiving because I had seen it portrayed in movies and understood its historical background. None of this knowledge prepares you for the reality.
The night before Thanksgiving, we gathered with friends. We talked, told stories, sang, and enjoyed the company. Thanksgiving was off to a running start. The following day, we all gathered in the kitchen to cook. The chaos and organization were familiar to Christmas, but the beautiful Fall landscape told me otherwise. I baked some traditional Irish roast potatoes and cauliflower cheese. Many of us gathered around the table to celebrate and eat. We enjoyed deviled eggs, sweet potato casserole, and of course, the variety of pies. The combination and unfamiliarity of the dishes was interesting and enthralling. By the end of the evening, I was full of food, entertainment, and love. The day had exceeded my expectations of an early Christmas dinner. I decided that I was stealing Thanksgiving!
Since my initiation into the Thanksgiving clan, I have celebrated a further two, including a Friendsgiving. This year, we are joining our family in North Carolina, and we are prepared to relax and enjoy the company, which is well-needed just before the Christmas rush and all the engagements that come with that. So, my verdict is final; the McConnell family will continue our Thanksgiving tradition. Essentially, I’m stealing Thanksgiving! Thanks, America!