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Americans Take Thanksgiving Rites Abroad

November 28, 1985|MARIAN SMITH HOLMES | Holmes lives in London. and

LONDON — "Mom's American, Dad's American and I'm half and half--half British, half American," 8-year-old Christina Cone announced in a crisp British accent. "But I don't know much about the States," she quickly said to an adult visitor during a discussion of Thanksgiving.

She was born in Britain of American parents and has never celebrated the holiday in the States, but with the annual Thanksgiving party that her parents throw for their British friends, a book about the Pilgrim Fathers from her grandmother, and an occasional mention in her history lesson at the British private school she attends, her notion of Thanksgiving probably isn't much more fractured than an 8-year-old born on American soil.

"It's when you give thanks to God," Christina said confidently. "Pilgrims were peasants?" she said quizzically. "Oh, the Pilgrim Fathers . They went to America when James I reigned. They met Indians. They went to an Indian place where Indians were gathering the corn, and one Indian was brave enough to come out and shoot arrows at them."

She veered off course a few seconds commenting on cornfields, tents and arrows, but concluded her story with: "They made friends with some Indians. The Indians gave corn to the Pilgrim Fathers and that's what Thanksgiving is about."

Mardi Cone agreed with daughter Christina's assessment that she and her 6-year-old brother are "half and half."

"We're giving them as much of America as we can," said Cone, whose husband, Lance, is a real-estate developer. "This must be how the immigrant families that went to America felt when the next generation grew up knowing nothing about all the customs in the old country," she said. "Here we've just done it in reverse. We're trying to keep it (American traditions) up."

No Holiday in Britain

The absence of relatives, some difficulty getting the traditional foods and the fact that Thanksgiving is just another workday in Britain have forced the 22,000 Americans living in London to alter their way of celebrating the family holiday.

For instance, getting the day off is not always possible even if, as in many cases, an expatriate is working for an U.S. company based in Britain.

Lisa K. Winkler and her husband, Matthew, a writer for the Wall Street Journal, will have their Thanksgiving feast on Saturday as they have for the past two years.

"It's traditionally a longer meal. This way we can relax and not have to worry about going to work the next day," she said.

"It's always very mixed between English and Americans. The first year we had two Texans, two New Englanders, two New Yorkers and two Britons. Each couple brought their specialty from their geographical area. We try to make foods we had at our family table when we were growing up," Winkler said.

Oddly enough a British guest brought wild rice, a native North American food, which American friends in Minnesota had sent to her.

Cone said she likes to invite 10 to 12 people to a Thanksgiving dinner party, and the emphasis is on introducing the U.S. custom to the British.

"I've always invited only English people round and given them things like pumpkin pie and sweet potatoes. Everyone knows why we celebrate Thanksgiving, but they are rather intrigued by these funny foods we eat.

"They come really afraid to eat the food and they're really surprised. Sweet potatoes sound a bit funny to them--a sweet potato. Turkey is easy; they're used to that.

"Everyone has a wonderful time, and they all end up liking the foods. But pumpkin pie is a bit iffy; some like it, some don't. I usually give them pecan pie as alternative and that no one hates."

A mixed dozen or so of Britons and Americans is Alice Smith's way of celebrating Thanksgiving abroad. Smith, a commercial manager of a computer company, insists on having her dinner on Thursday, which means negotiating a day off.

Christmas was never a significant holiday in her childhood she said because her mother was Catholic and her father Jewish, so "Thanksgiving became the important tradition in my family."

Importance of Heritage

"I always celebrate," she said. "It's what I associate with being American; all of us have a heritage. It's important especially if you are rootless in a foreign country. You bring in your friends, people you care about."

Elizabeth Brown, a photo researcher, put on a fowl feast her first Thanksgiving here. Intrigued by the array of game fowl in butcher shops, where the naked birds are often displayed with tall, colorful tail feathers, she chose grouse and pheasant instead of traditional turkey for her guests who included Americans, Canadians and Britons.

"I hadn't a clue what to do with these things," she said, but one of her British guests rescued her. Nevertheless, "I'd rather go back to turkey," she said. "The game birds are very strong, plus turkey is more nostalgic. Our first year here we were so wide open trying things British."

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