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In the Promised Land

Having become an American citizen a year ago, after ten years of administrative procedures, I find myself confronted with the final step: celebrating Thanksgiving. Failing to honor the fourth Thursday of November would not be very American, or even entirely un-American.

Forget the green cards, the passports and the right to vote. Surely Thanksgiving is the one, true consecration of integration into the United States? It certainly is in cultural and spiritual terms. The fact that Thanksgiving is the only celebration respected by all, regardless of language, culture and religion, serves as ample proof. It is the only day of the year when the American nation puts its differences aside, and comes together. Gathered around the table for a meal that begins in the mid-afternoon — quite peculiar for a Frenchman accustomed to eating in the evening — we are all Americans, and nothing more. If only there were an equivalent celebration in France, during which we would content ourselves with simply being French, without hatred or prejudice for anyone. But there is no Thanksgiving, nor even its literal translation of Merci Donnant, in France.

What exactly are we celebrating on Thanksgiving in the United States? What was once a gesture of religious, evangelical thanks to God – to the detriment of turkeys across North America — has, over the centuries, become an atheist celebration, albeit one that remains spiritual even today. According to different beliefs, each person thanks their God, their parents or their neighbors for the privilege of being American. On Thanksgiving, the United States is implicitly seen as the Promised Land — which it indeed became for pilgrims driven from their countries for their religious convictions. Most Americans have forgotten, or were never aware of, the biblical origins of the safe haven they now honor, but through this very celebration they recognize that America is “exceptional”.

And for those who are against the massacre of turkeys, there are now alternatives made using soy protein for vegetarians. Which is just as symbolic, and just as American.

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