LONDON – Plump turkeys in butcher shop windows. Harvest displays of pumpkin and corn. Sandwich boards describing groaning feasts.
Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday in Britain, but you might be forgiven for being fooled. It’s not hard to find someone to talk turkey, never mind sell you one. That’s because there are so many Americans in Britain these days that dozens of businesses have started selling the goods they need to celebrate.
Greg Klaes, a Detroit native who used to teach science on U.S. military base schools, started growing pumpkins 30 years ago so his students could carve Halloween jack-o-lanterns. This year, his Oxfordshire farm is selling 600 kilograms (1,322 pounds) a week, filling harvest decorations and pumpkin pies.
“I believe firmly that there’s a real integration of the societies,” he said. “There’s a lot of Americans and a lot people want to share their cultures.”
Klaes is one of some 200,000 U.K. residents who were born in the U.S., according to census data. That’s 26 per cent more than in 2001. In Kensington and Chelsea, an upscale London borough that is home to many bankers and celebrities, U.S.-born residents make up 5 per cent of the population.
And since there’s no other holiday that’s quite like Thanksgiving, businesses big and small are finding ways to get in on the celebrations. Dozens of restaurants are putting on spreads. Texas-based Whole Foods has turned its store on Kensington High Street into a one-stop holiday shopping centre beginning with a sidewalk chalkboard that welcomes customers with the message “We are here to make your Thanksgiving epic.”
Even the mainstream British grocery chain Waitrose is getting involved, although in a smaller way. A few blocks down the High Street in a store that’s already decked out with red-and-green Christmas decorations, Waitrose has a small “Happy Thanksgiving” display, complete with a picture of a pumpkin wearing a buckled Pilgrim hat.
Offerings include Ocean Spray cranberry sauce, Carnation evaporated milk and Libby’s pumpkin, alongside British icons like Paxo Sage and Onion stuffing.
Turkey producer Bramble Farm in Surrey has been around since the 1930s and sold 100 or so special birds during the Thanksgiving season 15 years ago. Farm owner Derek Joy says he now sells 4,500.
It’s not just Americans who are buying. Joy said he has started getting calls from British families who want to put on feasts for their American work colleagues — so they don’t feel lonesome on the big day. As he is most definitely British, Joy finds it strange when he is asked to dispense advice on a quintessentially American holiday, but he tries to keep it straightforward.
“I’d say just treat it like Christmas day,” Joy said. “And instead of doing a pudding, just buy a pumpkin pie.”
There’s a lot of Americana in London, especially when it comes to food.
In trendy Notting Hill, made famous to Americans by the Julia Roberts film of the same name, there’s even a store catering to the expats. Aptly named the American Food Store, replete with sign decorated with the Stars and Stripes, it caters to those in need of Hostess Twinkies, Pepperidge Farms Goldfish and Campbell’s Soup. For the holiday they’ve added Libby’s canned pumpkin, Stove Top stuffing and graham cracker pie crusts.
And for the really upscale, there’s always Lidgate’s.
The ever-cheerful Danny Lidgate, whose 160-year-old shop has been in the same family for five generations, says Americans gobble up the big broad-breasted heritage Kelly Bronze turkeys he stocks. Put simply, business is very good.
For those who don’t understand the holiday, Lidgate’s offers this primer on its website: “Turkeys feature prominently in the history of the Pilgrim fathers, and it is believed that many Puritan families owed their survival to wild turkeys.”
Never mind that those Pilgrim parents left Britain fleeing religious persecution. That’s all past. Everyone is friends now.
Lidgate says from the time he was a kid working at the shop, he’s known Thanksgiving was special.
“It’s like a mini-Christmas,” he said. “It’s an energy we love.”
Americans can expect to pay more than they would for similar fixings back home. Lidgate’s is taking orders for Thanksgiving turkeys up to 12 kilograms (26.5 pounds), enough to feed 20 people. The price: 198 pounds ($311).
Britain doesn’t really have a holiday like Thanksgiving. There are harvest celebrations, but no single event compares to the mammoth festival of food and football that dominates American thought. Britons know about it, though, and in a world of multinational companies, they will expect their colleagues to be away on Thursday.
“I’m personally quite envious of your Thanksgiving.” Joy said. “It’s about family and friends. It’s all about being proud to be an American. It’s all about not giving presents, but it’s about your presence. It’s about being there and being part of a family.”
“I think that’s pretty cool,” he said before checking himself. “That sounds very American, doesn’t it?”