My English friends never really got it, and that was fine. “No presents? No religion? Just … supper?” they would ask, befuddled by a holiday meal that you attended because you wanted to, no strings attached. The British schools did not get the day off — which made sense, since at heart Thanksgiving celebrates the early Americans’ gratitude for not having to live in Britain anymore — so we’d eat in the evening, or just go ahead and reschedule the day for Saturday or Sunday. Who cared? We made it up as we went along.
Those were my first Thanksgivings as a proper adult decoupled from the family I’d left 3,000 miles away. I jettisoned all the traditions I’d never cared for: creamed onions, squabbling ancillary relatives, overly marshmallowy yams and the sort of cranberry sauce adulterated by the needless addition of orange zest. I made sweet potatoes mashed with butter and olive oil, and string beans sautéed with shallots and garlic.
I located bags of cranberries (by then, there were enough Americans in London that the cranberry companies were shipping Thanksgiving-related products across the Atlantic) and halved the amount of sugar in the recipe on the back. My two English daughters thought it was magic, the way the cranberries gently burst from their skins and released their juices to metamorphose into something that to me felt onomatopoeic, if you can use that word to describe such a perfect confluence of color and taste.
Since English people regard turkey as a Christmas bird, there was no pressure to get it right: They’d all be eating it in a month, anyway, and if it was too dry, or whatever, I could just say that was how we made it in New York. I’d serve the salad after the main course, the European way.