Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Thanksgiving in Bologna

More than 150 students, faculty, staff and their families gathered at the Bologna Center on November 24 to celebrate the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday with a feast organized by the Student Government Association. The pièce de résistance -- 15 turkeys. Accompanied by an assortment of side dishes and topped by an array of desserts. Entertainment by the Dance Club. Below SAIS Bologna student Felix Amrhein of Germany writes about his first ever Thanksgiving. (Thanks to photographer Maxwell Cohen.)

Turkeys were carved, potatoes were mashed, vegetables were roasted.

After three months of pasta, pizza and panini, SAIS Bologna students displayed their culinary skills and offered a wide variety of traditional dishes at the annual Thanksgiving dinner.

As a European who has never lived in the United States, I experienced my first Thanksgiving. I had heard of it, of course. But apart from a passing knowledge of its basic history, I knew little about the tradition. I could not help but think it was a pretext to eat insane amounts of mostly greasy but delicious food.

Boy, was I wrong.

I spent my first Thanksgiving with friends who obviously had been doing little else that day but standing in the kitchen and preparing food.

The U.S. students were horrified by the thought that classes would be held at SAIS Bologna on Thanksgiving, which of course is not a holiday in Italy. As long ago as August I had heard desperate conversations on how to tackle this dilemma. The solution: hold the dinner on a Saturday afternoon.

Ever since the end of midterms, the main topic of conversation was what to cook for Thanksgiving, how to get hold of turkey in Italy, where to gather and how to get a U.S. TV feed to watch the requisite football game.

(I could not help but notice that Americans tend to get a bit lost as the year progresses. It seems they need public holidays to tell them what to do and how to act. After a long preparation for Halloween, the next event is Thanksgiving. With Thanksgiving over, Black Friday starts the countdown for the Christmas season. Black Friday is the most intense display of consumerism I have ever seen and falls just a day after the commemoration of what we are thankful for.)

The Dance Club performed a flash Gangnam Style routine

It took me two hours in the kitchen, three helpings of food, 20 fellow SAIS students and a good two hours of food coma to grasp the importance of this holiday for the Americans.

Never have I seen so many people Skype or call their families at once. It brought home to me that this holiday is about spending time with loved ones, enjoying the company of one's family and expressing thanks.

It's clear that Thanksgiving means more than I may have thought: a day with close friends and family, enjoying a fine meal and remembering what we can be thankful for.

I am thankful for having had the chance to enjoy this day with the SAIS family.