My husband got a faculty position at the University of Iowa and we moved there as soon as he completed his PhD. We drove to Iowa City from Missouri in the of middle of November, and several days later we were invited for a Thanksgiving dinner by one of the other young professors at his department. We were thrilled. It was our first time for everything: a first real job, a first real home, and a first time to be invited to an American home for a holiday dinner.
Since we didn’t know much about the holiday we did our homework and read about the historical and cultural significance of Thanksgiving in North America.
At 3 o’clock in the afternoon, on the 4th Thursday in November, my husband and I and our baby daughter arrived at the home of our American hosts. To our great surprise they did not lead us to the dinning room but to the den in the basement. There we found the rest of the guests who were already sitting around watching a game on television. They were so involved with what was going on, that they only acknowledged our arrival with a nod. There was no conversation apart from some comments about American football that we didn’t understand. One of the babies present was dressed for the occasion in a yellow outfit with the words “Iowa Hawkeyes” in big black letters. Since we were foreigners and new in town, it was the first time that we found out the name of the football team of the University of Iowa. After what seemed like eternity we were finally invited upstairs for dinner. Up there the game was still going on strong, and we were very aware of what took place on the screen in the living room next to the dining room where we ate.
As Israelis we found it all quite confusing, we were used to a different kind of a holiday meal. At home, around the table, there was always a happy noise: we laughed and talked and shouted. Here the conversation never took off and it was a quiet meal in the shadow of a football game.
The food was different too, for us nothing had a familiar taste. We didn’t know what stuffing was, it was the first time that we saw the red/purple sauce which turned out to be cranberry sauce, and we never encountered such a big bird as that turkey on our first Thanksgiving dinner. Even dessert was a surprise, the pumpkin pie had a strange taste and an aftertaste: back home I only used pumpkin in a vegetable soup.
After that first holiday we celebrated many more Thanksgiving dinners as a family. We grew to love the holiday since it is a national and not a religious celebration, and we had a lot to thank for in our life. We never watched American football during that day, or any other day. But it seems that we were in the minority, according to Wikipedia football has become an integral part of the holiday.
As foreigners we also never got used to Thanksgiving food, especially to pumpkin pie. But our daughters, who were born in the US and spent there most of their childhood, have always loved those pies. So they must be partially American after all.