Thanksgiving, London Style (or, Burninating the Pilgrims)

Expat Thanksgiving, as anyone will tell you, is always a little bit of a challenge. There is the sourcing of ingredients like canned pumpkin, cornflour, and cranberries. There is the logistical challenge of making sure you have enough pans to cook all the multitudinous requisite dishes. (I may have created a Gantt chart for this. Then again, I may not admit to such a thing.) Then you have to convince your friends to get in the appropriate spirit by plying them with alcohol and turkey.

You would think this would be easy, but among certain quarters of my friends there has ever been a lingering Thanksgiving skepticism on account of the hassle to create it and the disruption to their living rooms and kitchens whilst doing so. However, I have persevered in the face of opposition (mostly by stuffing it with pie) and created a warm if begrudging acceptance of my tradition among my peers abroad.

There is also one addition that I have made to the usual Thanksgiving traditions like harvest-theme tablecloths, horns of plenty, and tiny turkey table-toppers. I shall call this new tradition the Burning of the Pilgrims.

“Hang on,” I hear you say. “You are confused, young Caitlin. You have lived too long among the peoples of the British Isles. It is on Guy Fawkes Day that people are burned in effigy, not on Thanksgiving. That is contrary to the spirit of things.”

Well, cluster round, brethren, and I shall tell ye of the Burning of the Pilgrims.

For my first Thanksgiving abroad, my mom sent me a care package full of Thanksgiving trimmings, like Libby’s canned pumpkin, napkins with autumnal leaves on them, and a turkey made of tissue paper. There were also, mysteriously, little candles in the shape of Pilgrims.

I was perplexed by the purpose of the Pilgrim candles. Surely you couldn’t burn them? This is a holiday celebrating community, togetherness, successful harvest, and other jolly things. It should not involve melting Pilgrim faces, like some sort of preindustrial Raiders of the Lost Ark. I decided they were meant merely as a non-burney decoration. Though in that case, why were there little wicks in their heads? It was mildly disturbing, but we carried on regardless. The Pilgrims could stand tall, in no fear of being burned by me.

However, I did not count on the pyromaniac tendencies of my friends. Food was made, merriment was had by all, and wine was consumed. Very much wine was consumed. After which it was decided that with or without my blessing, the pilgrims were going to burn like a disco inferno.

To be fair, the tiny Pilgrim candles already had disturbing faces. There was something not quite right about them. Like their little waxen eyes were following you around the room, or something. So one was chosen. And his little buckled hat was set alight.

Perhaps this says something about me as a person, or perhaps the wine was simply flowing too freely, but the spectacle of those tiny pilgrim heads softening and running into a waxy pool unleashed a paroxysm of unstoppable giggles. Pretty soon, the Pilgrim candles were no more.

Ever since that first Thanksgiving abroad, the Burning of the Pilgrims has been an integral part of the festivities. This year my parents were unable to find Pilgrim candles in any of the usual places. (Clearly local merchants had heard about my melty tendencies and hid their little Pilgrims away safely from my match-filled hands.) Even online retailers proved insufficient, but with tenacity and perseverance they eventually found some in an online auction. After some stiff bidding competition (which I like to picture scored by tense background music), Pilgrims were obtained and duly sent to their doom across the Atlantic.

And thus it was that a new generation of British Thanksgiving attendees was indoctrinated into the way of the Burning of the Pilgrims. I’m traveling next week so we had to have Thanksgiving early. Because at the end of the day, Thanksgiving isn’t about a date on the calendar, it’s about being surrounded by friends and family, sharing good food, and reminding each other of all the things for which we are most grateful. And Pilgrim burning, of course.