The Outsider column by Rachael Sugden
L AST week was a struggle as I recovered from US jet lag. Husband and I spent two weeks on the East Coast of the United States with my sister and her family, plus my parents, for Thanksgiving.
My poor American brother-in-law felt well and truly hijacked. Thanksgiving is his big holiday, in the way that ours is Christmas.
But as my family haven't been together at Christmas for almost 10 years, and probably won't be for a long time yet, we turned his American holiday into our own Christmas celebration.
My sister's house had illuminated icicles dripping from the eaves and two (almost) life-size reindeer, sparkling with fairy lights, on the front lawn. Brother-in-law is a very tolerant man. Inside, the tree was up (all nine feet of it – American houses are big), snow globes lined the mantlepiece and carols rang out from the stereo.
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Because of Thanksgiving, Christmas traditionally doesn't exist for Americans until after the turkey dinner and pumpkin pie feast at the end of November. There were no TV adverts and no decorations in the shopping malls. All the other clapperboard houses in sister's street were decked out with autumnal decorations (pumpkins, russet-coloured ribbons, straw scarecrows and wheat sheaves). But I think there's a reason Americans embrace Thanksgiving so forcefully – and it's not just about their heritage. It also means they get a few weeks' respite from the festive hype. Because, like everything else Stateside, Christmas is massive in America.
As promised, within days of Thanksgiving, sister's house was no longer the only festive showpiece on the block. In fact, her display now looked very tame. We may relish the turkey dinner on December 25 but American's prefer to eat their turkey a month early and get on with the far more important task of outdoing their neighbours' light displays.
Overnight, the house opposite was covered in giant (and I'm talking six feet square) red taffeta bows, attached to every window arch (six on the first floor, four on the ground) and door lintel. On a big old house, that was a lot of bows. It must have been very dark inside.
Next door one-upped sister's reindeer with an inflatable Santa (about 15 feet high) and a huge wooden sleigh, filled with polystyrene painted parcels. I couldn't work out where all this giant paraphernalia had come from. But apparently it all reappears every year.
So, well and truly sucked in, we visited a nearby Christmas shop. I managed to spend a ludicrous amount of money on baubles and sparkly decorations but was banned from attempting to take any reindeers over a foot high home in the suitcase.