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Column: Thanksgiving is the only time of year I really miss America

There’s nowhere else in the world I’d rather be than Ireland… most of the time. But this is the one day of the year that I would give almost anything to be back in my home neighbourhood of East Milton, Boston, writes Larry Donnelly.

Larry Donnelly Law lecturer, NUI Galway

AS A BOSTONIAN who’s lived in Ireland for more than a decade, I’ve grown accustomed to getting quizzical looks from people after hearing my story and being asked the same question: “Do you miss home?”

My standard response is that I do miss my family, friends and home city, but that I am very happy here. It’s the truth. Because my wife, stepson and – time flies! – one year old Larry Óg are in this country, there is nowhere else in the world I’d rather be. My work and life otherwise are satisfying and enjoyable, too. While the Donnellys, Kellys and Flanigans in my family who made the opposite journey to me in the last century found a new life and tremendous opportunities in the US, I have found the very same in Ireland.

There is, however, one day every year that I would give almost anything to be back in my home neighbourhood of East Milton for: Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving, which falls on the fourth Thursday in November annually, commemorates the feast shared by the Pilgrims and Native Americans in 1621 after the Pilgrims’ first harvest in Plymouth, Massachusetts. They literally were giving thanks for the success of the harvest. That they feasted together is a significant fact, in light of the troubling subsequent history of relations between the two groups and the despicable treatment by the settlers of those they encountered in the “New World.”

The quintessential American holiday

Although it was marked in different ways thereafter, Thanksgiving did not become an official holiday until it was proclaimed as such by President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War in 1863. Since then, it has become the quintessential American holiday, even surpassing the 4th of July, Independence Day, in the hearts and minds of Americans.

Differing and diverse traditions exist in just about all American families for celebrating Thanksgiving. My late mother, an amazing cook, managed the task of preparing dinner for crowds of various sizes at our house for many years. Equally memorable for my brother and I were the Thanksgiving traditions we created with our friends. From trips to high school American football games, to early morning, needless, yet inevitably hilarious, gatherings in the Lower Mills Pub in Dorchester, to more child-friendly activities these days, Thanksgiving was and will forever be a time for cherishing our friendships, as well as our family.

The focus on family and friends is what makes Thanksgiving so special to me. Exchanging gifts is not a part of the day; eating, drinking and relaxing with people you love are. Accordingly, and unlike at Christmas, there is little stress (other than for the cook), no frantic trips to shopping centres to make sure the children get the latest, in-demand toys and no poisonous whispers about presents that are perceived to be cheap or inappropriate.

That is not to say that I dislike Christmas. I greatly enjoy both its religious and secular elements, and it will be even better as my baby son grows up. But Thanksgiving is unique.

Thanksgiving in Ireland

Given that I am so enamoured of Thanksgiving, coming to grips with the reality that, relatively, it is a non-entity in Ireland was among the most difficult aspects of adjusting to life here. Truth be told, I used to dread getting phone calls on the day from people in Boston in far superior form than I was in my office in Galway.

Irish relatives, friends and colleagues, however, have always been very good about saying “Happy Thanksgiving” and empathising with my being 3,000 miles away from where I’d like to be. What’s more, a quick scratch of the surface will reveal that a lot of Irish people, especially those who have spent time in the US and/or have relatives and friends living there, celebrate Thanksgiving here. I don’t think this is another consequence of American “cultural imperialism,” as some would no doubt claim. I think it’s wonderful that those who’ve adopted Thanksgiving see the merit in taking time out to give thanks for what they have and for the people in their lives.

Now that I’ve been in Ireland so long and have a family of my own, we have started our own Thanksgiving tradition. Every year, along with well over one hundred US citizens, Irish citizens and dual US/Irish citizens, we go to the Democrats Abroad Thanksgiving dinner in Dublin.

It’s a fantastic occasion to eat and drink, watch American football and meet interesting people. We always have a high profile guest speaker who shares his/her reflections on Thanksgiving and on the friendship between our two countries. We’re lucky to have Newstalk broadcaster and RTÉ rugby pundit, George Hook, a big fan of most things American, this year.

The dinner is certain to be a great time again. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be wistful.

Larry Donnelly is a Boston attorney, Law Lecturer at NUI Galway and a political columnist with IrishCentral.com.

We’re interested in your ideas and opinions – do you have a story you would like to see featured in Opinion & Insight? Email opinions@thejournal.ie

Read: 6 edible reasons why Thanksgiving makes our Christmas look puny

Pic: What happens when Americans fly home for Thanksgiving

About the author:

Larry Donnelly  / Law lecturer, NUI Galway

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