In my opinion, Thanksgiving is the most American of holidays. This past Thursday, it was our first American Club event of the year at Transylvania University. It was an exciting opportunity to share something of home with students and faculty. However, it also posed several interesting questions for me personally. What does the Thanksgiving celebration mean for Americans, and how do I share this holiday with others? So, I opened my riveting Thanksgiving speech by passing around Norman Rockwell’s famous 1943 painting “Freedom from Want.” It depicts a scene seared in our collective conscious; Grandpa and Grandma preside over a bountiful table surrounded by the younger generations. Nobody is hungry, nobody is arguing, and everyone is happy– almost to the point of being ridiculous. This perfect scene is often mocked, understandably, in contemporary culture. After all, what would Thanksgiving be without the traditional family argument or debate? I also thought about how ironic this scene might seem to some of the Romanians who were fasting from meat and dairy in preparation for Christmas. The ideal of “Freedom from Want” epitomizes much of our American ideology.
Many of my students have expressed interest in going to America in search of a better life– to live the “American Dream.” I wanted to encourage them to think about what the American Dream really is, and if there really is such a thing as “freedom from want.” After wandering down a few rabbit trails and almost getting lost, I noticed that some students were so mesmerized by my words that they stared off into the distance as if transfixed…or was it that fly on the wall? Anyway, I concluded my little oration with a question. In what sense is “Freedom from want” a freedom? It does not seem like it can be legally guaranteed, yet it remains a source of hope. Whether or not that hope is misplaced is for each to decide for himself. As we ate and celebrated our freedom from want, I invited guests into conversation about the nature of freedom. The dinner table is often the center of the American Discourse, for what is more American than a political debate at the dinner table?
After the stirring speech by yours truly, we ate a scrumptious pot-luck meal followed by games and songs. In spite of the sterile classroom setting, it turned out to be a very festive evening with laughs and lively conversations. Originally, I had hoped to share a few iconic contemporary American Thanksgiving Traditions like an American football game or a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Since we didn’t have a projector and the banjo in the corner was a novelty to many of our guests, Anne and I led a few songs. Simple Gifts and Stephen Foster’s Hard Times Come Again No More are two American classics from my childhood that we shared. We ended our evening with the world’s best party game, “Apples to Apples.” The free association of random nouns and adjectives can spawn some of the best conversations…maybe even more than the equally random ramblings of a Fulbright lecturer.