Denmark has plenty of holidays, most of which feature food or drink. All of them require plenty of food, and especially drinks. There are Danish holidays just for beer and just for cake. (A small selection of x-mas beer bottles are the backdrop in the picture above.) And in Denmark, there are many cakes, every sweet pastry is cake, and cake is almost always available. I love Denmark.
But I digress, below is a response I provided to an "Ask the Expert" feature for a campus magazine (pictured above, translated into Danish). I tried to keep it simple... but it was also an opportunity to reflect in new ways on old American traditions and holidays as well as how our traditions and holidays relate to Denmark.
Why do we celebrate Thanksgiving?
There are so many ways to answer this question! I think most Americans would say that we celebrate Thanksgiving because it is a tradition and an opportunity to be thankful for what we have. However, we tend to be more centered on the activities of the day—eating, drinking, and watching football—than we are on the meaning of giving thanks. And Thanksgiving almost always means eating too much! Plus, Thanksgiving also means two days off of work and an extra-long weekend, at least for some of us. It also means the beginning of the Christmas holiday season and, in the last decade or so, “Black Friday” shopping deals. Every year Black Friday starts earlier and earlier, with some retail stores even opening on Thanksgiving Day.
As an American Studies professor, I tend toward a more cynical explanation (if my above explanation was not already cynical enough!): we celebrate Thanksgiving because it is a way to justify our mistreatment (and genocide) of Native Americans through a myth of equality and cooperation. Further, we see gender stereotypes play out as the women cook the food and do the dishes while the men drink beer and watch football and the children watch holiday-themed movies and television shows. But of course there are diverse iterations of this Thanksgiving holiday tradition, and even Native Americans celebrate a version of Thanksgiving.
Even with my critical views and vegan diet, I am guilty of indulging in the perks of the Thanksgiving holiday. It is a day when I don’t have to work and don’t have to leave the house and can stay in my pajamas all day. My husband and I can cuddle up and watch football or non-holiday movies. I even make a vegan “Tofurky” (a product manufactured specifically for vegans to enjoy the turkey tradition) and vegan stuffing, mashed potatoes, and gravy … and of course dessert!
How much does Thanksgiving mean in a Danish context?
Being new to Denmark, I can only answer based on the little bit I have learned since I arrived just over a month ago. My short answer would be that celebrating Thanksgiving is a very hyggeligt thing to do! This very “cozy” time with family and friends, eating and drinking and being warm by the fire is very much in line with the practice of this holiday in the United States. I plan to add more candles to my future Thanksgivings! (More on hyggeligt later ... and candles are very popular in Denmark.)
But another Danish context relates to something I learned from my American Studies colleague, Jørn Brøndal, about the early Danish settlers in America. He writes about Danish travel writers’ perceptions of the Indians they encountered on their travels, and in one of our classes he talked about how the Danish settlers to the New World participated in the genocide and removal of the Indians alongside other white settlers. So, perhaps the celebration of Thanksgiving also has a deeper meaning in a Danish context! At the very least, my experience so far tells me that the Danes have a lot to be thankful for!