Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving Downunder

I’ve often said how for the most part day to day life in New Zealand isn’t any different for me than if I were in America. There is, however, one thing that does make me aware that I’m living somewhere other than my homeland: Holidays.

I don’t mean any and every holiday, but specifically American ones. Even after more than a decade in New Zealand, it still feels strange to have Fourth of July in winter (for that matter, it feels weird to have a summer Christmas, too, but had I lived elsewhere in America, a Christmas that was at least warm wouldn’t seem as weird as it does to this born and bred Midwesterner).

Because the climate in this part of
New Zealand is mild all year long, my partner and I have had BBQs on the Fourth of July, though with more than a few Kiwi touches and additions. It makes for a nice excuse for a winter get-together.

Thanksgiving is another thing altogether.

The media in
New Zealand have talked about Thanksgiving and explained its current significance to Americans, and I think they pretty much are right on the money. Thanksgiving, they explain, is more important to Americans than Christmas or any other holiday because it’s the time when people are more likely to travel—to visit their relatives by birth or partnering, or to be with friends.

Millions of turkeys will be roasted in
America, and once again the company that makes Butterball brand turkeys is running its “Turkey Talk-Line” to help people with their turkey cooking crises. It’s kind of amazing to think that there would be any need for a call centre devoted just to telling people how to cook a turkey.

When you live this far from
America, travelling for a holiday, even if it’s a four-day weekend, isn’t possible. So, you make do.

One year my partner and I went to Denny’s because, being an American chain, they had a reasonable diner-style turkey meal. Other years, I’ve made a Thanksgiving meal. Sometimes I had to approximate some things, but in this era of globalisation, most ingredients of the meal are readily available (apart from tinned “solid pack” pumpkin—I’ve never successfully made a pumpkin pie in NZ, once failing miserably trying to make one from fresh squash).

This year, a bit on the spur of the moment I decided to roast a turkey roll and some veggies and such. It’ll have some of the traditional ingredients, and some that are near enough (like kumara instead of sweet potato). The sister-in-law and her daughter will join my partner and me.

But it’s quite warm today, not like a “traditional” Thanksgiving at all. I can live with that.

A lot of Kiwis are fascinated by this American tradition, far more so than any other (like Halloween). On Monday, the “Good Morning” programme on TVNZ had the American Ambassador to
New Zealand, William McCormick, and his wife Gail present their recipes for stuffing and roasting the turkey. It’s the second time the Ambassador has been on the show to cook (he’s a millionaire from the restaurant industry). I think he came across as very down-to-earth and friendly; he did us Americans proud, in other words (they’re lucky their appearance was on Monday; the next day a strike at TVNZ’s Wellington studio forced the show off the air).

So even on this side of the world there are some connections to the most American of holidays. It’s kind of nice.

Happy Thanksgiving.


lost in france said...

Poignant, your tale. I can't imagine living in the Southern hemisphere, although I have been there (Australia, South America).

If kiwis are Chinese gooseberries, what does that make New Zealanders?

And, by the way, what are hogget and kumara?

Arthur Schenck said...

AmeriNZ sez: Well, LiF, I know where your confusion comes from. When I lived in America, I thought--as most of us do--that "kiwi" referred to the fruit, shoe polish, a flightless bird and people from New Zealand. When I moved here I learned that the brown, fuzzy testicle-like fruit is called "kiwifruit", the shoe polish is called "nugget" (it was developed by an Australian and called "Kiwi" in honour of his NZ-born wife), so the word "kiwi" refers to the bird or the people, or things relating to those people.

Hogget is a type of lamb. In America, I thought it was all just "lamb", but there's actually a continuum from lamb (generally 1 year old or less), then hoggett (older than one year) and finally mutton (older still). Lamb is generally sweeter and more tender, while hoggett and mutton have stronger flavour and is usually tougher, which is why it's used in casseroles, stews and curries.

But kumara, now there's a mystery for you! It's a type of sweet potato, though the cultivars are different from what you see in America.

Sweet potatoes originated in South America, being domesticated some 5,000 years ago. They show up in Polynesia around 300CE--some 13-1400 years before Europeans arrived--and no one has ANY idea how they got there.

For more on the sweet potato mystery, check out this.

Fun Facts to Know and Tell: Sweet potatoes are related to morning glories. They are related more distantly to potatoes, and very, very distantly to yams. Potatoes, on the other hand are related more closely to nightshade than to sweet potatoes.

lost in france said...

You are a fountain of information! Thanks for clearing up my kiwi-confusion!

Now I have to get to your beautiful adoptive home sometime!

Arthur Schenck said...

My "fountain" runs a little drier than it used to in my (recent, of course) younger years, I'm afraid, but the power of the Internet helps to top it up.

Yes, do come for a visit--it's a great place to tour..and live, of course!