Thanksgiving in Edinburgh

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

It figures that three weeks before I leave, I am starting to feel really comfortable in Edinburgh. Snow sticks in crannies and bars advertise “hot toddies” by “a real fire!” The city is lighting up for Christmas, a Ferris wheel’s been erected on Princes Street, and as we run up the hill on the city’s outskirts, the view is spectacular. Recently my program ate a wonderful Thanksgiving meal, but first, a couple tidbits about student cuisine (read: cheap eating) in the city.

The best thing about cooking in Edinburgh? There is a wider variety of interesting sauces available in your average Tesco than in essentially any American supermarket. As two flatmates and I cooked up our imitation of a chicken tikka masala, I wasn’t quite sure where we fit into the schema of post-colonial, hyper-capitalist relations which I’d spent quite a bit of a prior semester at Swarthmore reading about, but the meal had the unambiguous identity of being delicious.

Next, If you ever come to Edinburgh, it is important to remember that that there are two types of burgers available. The first type of burger, sold at the kebab/falafel/pizza places (the combination becomes less weird as you spend more time here), with such great names as “yum yum,” looks like the burgers we eat in America: they come on buns, with some salad on top. The fish and chips joints, by contrast, apply the fish and chips model to pretty much everything, so instead of bread and lettuce, you get a burger battered in dough, and everything else costs extra. They’re sometimes a challenge to get through, so a battered burger currently sits in our fridge, on top of abundant Thanksgiving leftovers.

The Parliamentary Interns enjoy dessert after Thanksgiving dinner.

For me, the way we celebrated Thanksgiving confirmed that collective identities are negotiable. Because Scottish Parliament is officially in session from Tuesday through Thursday, our program decided to push the meal back to Friday, and nothing calamitous happened. The twenty of us took the day off to cook and prepare; my flatmate Matt, who as you may recall has worked professionally as a chef, took responsibility for a quite a bit of the Thanksgiving essentials. I helped where needed, mashing potatoes, running to the bargain store to buy casserole dishes, and checking temperatures while Matt ran to rescue the other (not quite properly defrosted) turkey.

For many of us, it was the first Thanksgiving celebrated away from family, and for most I imagine it was the first Thanksgiving meal cooked without adult supervision. I was pleasantly surprised, then, when everything turned out superb. The twenty of us gathered in our former classroom, said toasts, and feasted on turkey, ham, stuffing, gravy, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, asparagus wrapped in bacon – a crazy hodgepodge of everyone’s separate Thanksgiving traditions (very little vegetarianism was represented, for whatever reason). Wine flowed abundantly, and we followed with around 12 pies, which equated to more than half a pie a person. Though I (selfishly!) ate close to three quarters of a pie, each flat went home with leftovers.

Eating Turkey on a Friday night in Edinburgh, with 20 college juniors from all over, I felt something peculiar and unprecedented: a sort of pride in my national identity. It is manifestly defiant, aware of how much derision is aimed at our traditions and ideologies, and ready to respond, teeth almost bared. I am surprised to find this in myself. But sharing in the revelry with fellow expatriates, I felt, and feel, ready to defend America’s honour. And if that’s a lasting legacy of my time abroad, then I guess I don’t know as much about myself as I thought I did.

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