Trick or Turkey?: Getting Into American Holidays

Only one of us is in costume.
Only one of us is in costume. (Photo courtesy Elaine Fortuna)

I first arrived in the U.S. in mid-October, so I was almost immediately swept away by Halloween, followed soon by Thanksgiving. By “swept away” I mean, for the most part, “exposed to advertisements and merchandising.”

Yeah, I guess the commercialization of holidays in the U.S. drew the most direct reaction from me – especially how shops start selling Christmas- or Valentine’s Day-related items an entire month in advance.

But what about the holidays themselves? I knew about them, of course, and I always had a soft spot for Halloween, having seen fun times related to it on TV or in the movies. The traditional meaning behind it appealed to me as well –the idea of facing death, having children come to terms with mortality, and perhaps being exposed to certain spiritual (or what some would call supernatural) aspects of human life.

Now, of course, Halloween’s not really about death so much anymore and few people dress up as vampires or mummies; it’s just a fun costume party. I plead guilty myself – at our recent college Halloween party, I dressed up as a fellow student. It was super. People were fooled all night. I had to shave my head, and wear the kinds of clothes he does, but it was all worth it. Especially because I won the costume prize.

Two years ago, when I was a sophomore, some friends and I decided to go trick-or-treating for Halloween. Trick-or-treating is typically only an activity for young kids. Traditionally, it is children who go knocking on doors chanting, “Trick or treat!”, which is a demand for treats (candy), in exchange for not playing a trick on the household. I am uncertain how many trick-or-treaters actually play tricks anymore. Regardless, by the time you’re in high school, you’re considered too old to do this sort of thing.

Our excuse for going as a group of 18- to 20-year-olds that year was that there were two people in the group who had never gone trick-or-treating (myself, and another student from abroad). The part of Santa Fe where St. John’s College is situated isn’t exactly a residential area, however, so we had to trudge through a cold evening, and still only got to hit up a handful of homes. But we did manage to acquire a few bars of chocolate and some packs of candy. Sweet!

Whereas I could identify with the spiritual and fun side of Halloween, Thanksgiving always made me think a little bit longer. Especially my first year in the States, I found it very strange to be celebrating Thanksgiving. It seemed like such an American thing – a historical commemoration in which I had no part to play, really, as opposed to, say, the Fourth of July, which, in my opinion, was an event which had global implications one way or another. Plus, that’s a national holiday, so it deserves a different sort of treatment, kind of like standing up for the national anthem of any country, out of respect and courtesy.

So why go ahead with Thanksgiving? Just for the food? A wonderful (and valid!) reason as that may be, it took me a while to really appreciate what Thanksgiving meant, apart from the interesting history. I come from a close-knit family, and perhaps especially because I am currently away from them, I’ve found real beauty in the togetherness and fellowship that forms a big part of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Editor’s Note: This week’s Question of the Week is about holiday traditions – share your favorites that you’d miss most while studying in the U.S., and the U.S. traditions you’d most look forward to experiencing

I’ve been blessed with being invited over for Thanksgiving meals for the past few years. Last year I had the great pleasure of spending a few days in the state of Georgia, with a family of partly-Armenian roots. It was wonderful to really feel like a part of a home, as well as to explore the South for a little bit. What a beautiful part of the country! And the fact that Thanksgiving was the occasion for such a memorable time has slowly begun to render that holiday into an annual reminder and re-enforcer of very positive ideals, such as friendship and caring.

Even if I might feel some distance between myself and some of the holidays in the States, and even though the crass commercialization often gets me down, there’s no reason not to get together with friends and loved ones, and create the opportunity to cherish good times. With or without a costume.