23 November 2008

Thanksgiving in Hong Kong 感恩節在香港

I invited a few friends over to my apartment for Thanksgiving dinner yesterday. The secular holiday is all about the food: pumpkin soup, home-roasted turkey, sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts. The dinner conversation, fueled by no shortage of wine and cheese, carried the party well into the night.

Thanksgiving has always been a somewhat ambiguous holiday tradition. Most believe that it began when early European settlers in New England offered thanks to native Americans who gave them corn and potatoes to get through winter. Others argue that it was more of a harvest celebration. The Americans celebrate it on the fourth Thursday of November, whereas the Canadians have it a month earlier. Outside North America, however, the day is a complete non-event.

In the U.S. and Canada, Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the holiday season. As soon as the Turkey Day is over, retailers change their window displays from the more subtle fall motifs of orange and brown to Santa Clause and elves. Hong Kong, on the other hand, follows the English customs of putting up Christmas decorations as early as mid-November, which is something of a cultural faux pas in North America.

This was my first time roasting a turkey at home. I pre-ordered the 12-pound Butterball two weeks ago, defrosted it in the fridge for three whole days and followed my family recipe to a tee. My sister Ada has always been the turkey master in the family and every year she goes all out to host an elaborate Thanksgiving dinner at her house. It is one of the things I miss the most about living in Toronto.

The turkey is the largest single piece of food an average family ever puts on the dinner table, making it a culinary showpiece that wows dinner guests and instantly lights up the party. It also provides the head of household an annual opportunity to assert his or her position in the family by carving the bird with a sharp butcher’s knife and sending food around the table. This year, I acceded to that title with anticipation and trepidation. But it didn’t take me long to realize that high positions came with a price. By the time I finished with the carving, I had turkey juice splashed all over my shirt. Well, at least that means I didnt overcook the bird.

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