By Juha Himanen
About ten years ago, on a November afternoon, I was standing on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan, not knowing why there were no people around. It was Thursday afternoon and – now seemingly obvious – a Thanksgiving Day. Having just come from Finland, I had no idea about the concept of Thanksgiving. Not knowing really what to do, I met with another lost Finnish soul, we bought a bottle of whiskey, and went to his place on 30’s and 7th. While watching the crowds returning from the Parade, we finished the bottle and went down to have a turkey sandwich in a diner. It was not a bad Thanksgiving but hardly a one you would get in your top-ten list of the best parties.
So much has changed during these years. Now Thanksgiving, in a sense, has partly replaced Christmas for me. And I have always been a big Christmas person. It was actually so big for me when I was a child back in Finland that it was painful. And it was very painful for people around me in New York. People who couldn’t get me, with all the stories about the snow, the cleaning of the house, the cooking that started in October, the candles hand-made in a garage, the hunt for the perfect Christmas tree with my father in a complete darkness 7 o’clock in the morning, and the stars, the birds singing in the yard, and sleigh-rides to Christmas church.
By now I have completely embraced the whole concept of TG – as we tenderly want to call Thanksgiving. It has the very best elements of any important holiday with a touch of healthy sarcasm, like the obligatory football match and a case of Budweiser. This year, as several years in a row, I will be going upstate to my friends’ house. There will be a lot of cooking together with family and friends, walking outside breathing the fresh mountain air, and plenty of wine. Turkey will be served, I will make my ‘creamy mushroom sauce’, probably a portion of ‘glögi’ (or ‘mulled wine’), but most of all, it will be a day of being together, thinking nice, talking smooth, and having the feeling of ‘togetherness’. You will hear children laughing, music playing, and at some point the host will stand up, raise his glass, and make a toast for the occasion. And if you step outside, there won’t be anything else around than the eternal sky and the nature whispering in the frost: ‘Peace on earth’. Isn’t it beginning to look a lot like Christmas!
I probably started compensating parts of Christmas with Thanksgiving because it manages to avoid the excess hassle that occurs around Christmas in Finland. When you live in complete darkness for a hefty part of your life, you might have a tendency to overdo the ‘Holiday of Light’. And when it actually doesn’t take away the darkness, you can feel a bit ripped-off. Americans have the luxury to separate the ‘family get-together’ from the ‘present-giving frenzy’. But Finns never thought of it. But I’m taking full advantage and though my eyes will still get wet while caroling on Christmas Eve, on November 27th I will dedicate a specially warm toast to Americans who taught me to have another nice holiday, another party, and another reason to say ‘Terveydeksi – For Your Health’.