French Connection: A season to be reconnaissant - The South End: Perspectives

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French Connection: A season to be reconnaissant

Turkey, parades, sponsorship among staples in American Thanksgiving

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Posted: Friday, November 30, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 12:03 pm, Fri Apr 5, 2013.

Thanksgiving is an American tradition, celebrated with many pecularities throughout the U.S. One thing is specially delightful: the presidential pardon granted to two turkeys. In my opinion, there is nothing more poetic and funny than this useless, pompous and absurd ceremony. While many Americans sit at groaning tables loaded with food, they do not forget those less fortunate who, if it weren’t for charitable groups, would go hungry.

To gain perspective on this American holiday, I spent time at the parade, lunched in a soup kitchen, sitting among the hungry and homeless, and by the end of the day, had a typically American Thanksgiving dinner.

At nine in the morning, for Thanksgiving, I found myself following the crowd toward Woodward Avenue, where the parade was starting. High above the skyscrapers, little aircrafts were pulling large billboards. This aerial advertisement was like an introduction to what I was going to see: an entirely sponsored festival. All the floats were carrying big signs with the names of companies like Quick Loans, Comerica Bank, Detroit Free Press, etc. What a big lack of taste! Even the little Model T Ford had to wear an enormous sticker on his door with the name of his father -- definitely spoiling his vintage style.

America's Thanksgiving Parade was created in 1924 by the J.L. Hudson department store. With the actual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York -- Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, are you serious? -- is the second oldest Thanskgiving parade in United States. The very first parade was born in 1920 in Philadelphia and currently holds the prestigious name of -- wait for it -- 6abc Dunkin’ Donuts Thanksginig Day Parade! No comment. Perhaps, I should just go along with this idea that, in United States, brands are people's best friends?

Anyway, on this sunny Thanksgiving morning, everybody was celebrating and enjoying the parade, especially the children, lined along Woodward Avenue, perched on the roof of the caravans or on the back of a pickup, shouting "beads, beads."

I discovered later that the clowns who passed out the beads were community leaders who, for the Thanksgiving parade, trade their business suits for clown suits. I was kind of touched by this tradition that is filled with humility; nobody knows who is behind the make-up and the red nose. For one day, they stop being bosses, directors, leaders and turn into humble characters who make children laugh.

After the parade, I took a bus to the church where I wanted to have my first Thanksgiving dinner. I wanted to eat for free all day long and spend time with good fellows. I thought that homeless shelters were the best place for me -- conscience and scruples never stop me. I already had missed breakfast at the Masonic Temple, so I was very hungry getting to the church.

In the dining room, volunteers formed the biggest part of the crowd. Some of them came here for the first time and will not return until next year. With large smiles, they gave me turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and all kinds of heavy food. Of course they smiled while serving me -- after all, I was helping them clean their consciences for a full year.

While eating with the seriousness of a food critic among wheelchairs, broken arms and broken souls, the pastor came to me, just like he did with everyone in the place. A busy man, half-pastor and half-lawyer, the kind of man with an iron will, always exhausted, never complaining and always happy. I believe only two things can make people like that: strong faith or hard drugs, but faith keeps you alive longer.

After the church dinner, one of my friends took me to a house in Royal Oak for Thanksgiving dinner with people I met for the first time. A dinner in the pure American tradition: collard greens, turkey, coleslaw, deviled eggs, corn, etc. So much to learn: For example, "garnish" is called stuffing or dressing whether it's inside or outside the bird -- but everybody knows it's better inside; you can make a pie with pumpkin, and it can taste good; and some strange ill called "itis" -- " a drowsy or sleepy effect linked to digesting large meals," according to the urban dictionary -- can get you after large meals.

On the way back, my friend told me that some people were going to shop after dinner. It was the first time I heard about Black Friday.

"Before, retailers used to open around 6 a.m., but now many shops open at midnight on Thanksgiving," he said.

Then I discovered that, for the first time, Walmart opened to Black Friday shoppers at 8 p.m. I wonder how many people think about their Christmas shopping list as they look at the parade or dine with their friends and relatives for Thanksgiving. I wonder if some of the people I met at the homeless shelter were think about a Christmas Shopping list. I wonder, too, if one day consumerism will definitely kill the tradition of Thanksgiving.

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