A very British Thanksgiving in Shanghai


Emma Leaning
Emma Leaning
Next week is Thanksgiving. As a Brit, the fourth Thursday in November means as much to me as any other date. But it matters to many people in our international community.

Emma Leaning
Emma Leaning
A very British Thanksgiving in Shanghai
Zhou Shengjie / SHINE

The gift of living in a diverse city like Shanghai is learning what makes us different, from histories and beliefs to traditions and celebrations. Next week is Thanksgiving. As a Brit, the fourth Thursday in November means as much to me as any other date. But it matters to many people in our international community. A quick look online made it clear that Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie is frankly un-American. So much so, a molasses shortage in 1705 led one Connecticut community to postpone celebrations rather than skip dessert. Not wishing to offend anyone, I bought a pie and headed to the office for a chat with David, an American member of the Shanghai Daily team. He explained that the annual feast honors the first American Thanksgiving in 1619 and the help Pilgrims later received from Native Americans. Various presidencies called for days of thanks, but it wasn't until 1863 – during the Civil War – that Abraham Lincoln declared a national Thanksgiving Day.

Fast forward to 2021, and there are some curious ways Americans like to spend it.


American football

To kick things off, David taught me a thing or two about his nation's favorite sport. Pro football has been played on Thanksgiving Day since the 1920s. This long-standing American tradition continues every year with a three-course feast of NFL action on TV. From what I gathered, two teams made up of quarterbacks, receivers and running backs throw a funny shaped football around in attempt to score a touchdown. There's something about downs, yards and resets, and occasional issues with possession or sudden death ...

A very British Thanksgiving in Shanghai
Zhou Shengjie / SHINE

David teaches me a thing or two about Thanksgiving.

Give thanks

Who among us couldn't do with a little more gratitude? Human brains have a built-in negativity bias, a helpful instinct in natural selection (better to see too many tigers hiding in the bush than too few), but less so when it comes to happiness. A big component of Thanksgiving is coming together to celebrate what we're grateful for. I sat with a couple of colleagues to take stock of the good stuff. Amy is thankful to grow beside her son and for the joy he brings her, while Tom appreciates loved ones, friends and the kindness of society. Pausing to focus on what we have, instead of what we don't was my favorite part of the day. It's so easy to get lost in the messiness of life, and using gratitude to refocus felt healing. A valuable practice all year round.

A very British Thanksgiving in Shanghai
Zhou Shengjie / SHINE

Give thanks: I sat with a couple of colleagues to take stock of the good stuff.

Pay it forward

At Thanksgiving, many people choose to pay their blessings forward by supporting those in need. Shanghai offers loads of volunteer opportunities, from animal aid to helping the homeless, and a quick search online will provide plenty of ideas. We popped a collection box in the Shanghai Daily staffroom for the team to add to before Christmas. Items will be sent to Heart to Heart Shanghai, a charity that provides corrective surgery for Chinese children with congenital heart disease whose parents cannot shoulder the cost.

A very British Thanksgiving in Shanghai
Zhou Shengjie / SHINE

Pay it forward: a collection box for Heart to Heart Shanghai

Turkey (with all the trimmings)

An estimated 46 million turkeys are killed annually for Thanksgiving, but one lucky bird gets pardoned by the US president. Some families include breaking the turkey's wishbone (attached to its breast meat) in their celebration. Two people each take one end of the bone, make a wish, and pull. Whoever lands the larger part gets their date with Ryan Reynolds. Don't come after me, but I've no idea how to cook a roast dinner and wasn't fussed enough to find out on a workday evening. Shane and I skipped the traditional feast and stuffed ourselves on "Turkey Dinner" grilled cheese sandwiches from Co. Cheese Melt Bar (complete with mashed potato, cranberry sauce and gravy). All the trimmings and no washing up. Game changer.

Tune in, conk out

Live from New York, Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade signifies the unofficial start of the holiday season. While thousands of New Yorkers line the streets of Manhattan on Thanksgiving morning, millions tune in across America to watch from home. The 95th parade will feature 28 floats, 36 inflatables, 800 clowns, 10 marching bands and a host of stars, including Santa. And because TV is more attractive than our extended families, reruns of much-loved sitcoms and festive favorites are another tradition everyone enjoys. For Shane and I that translated to falling asleep on the sofa watching "Scent of a Woman" (again).


So there you have it: a very British Thanksgiving in Shanghai. While I've learned a lot about American football and Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, it's our likeness that's been the best lesson. When it comes to what really matters, we want the same things: to give thanks, spend time together, and fall into a food coma with loved ones. For a number of our international community, a precious part of that urge won't be possible. Like me, many of you will have expected to go home for the 2021 festive season. The fallout from COVID-19 lingers, and we're kept apart from the people and places we miss most. With that, I'll keep you in my thoughts this Thanksgiving and wish you and your family all the joys and warmth of the day.

Going back to the tradition of thanks, I didn't share mine: I'm grateful for many things – a healthy family, the life I lead and a loving partner to share it with. Another, and not insignificant blessing, is you and our shared community. Your creativity, compassion and strength never fail to inspire me, and the privilege of being your columnist is one I'll always be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving. See you next week.

How do you spend Thanksgiving? Get in touch or leave a comment.

A very British Thanksgiving in Shanghai

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