With Thanksgiving fast approaching, Irish people all over the U.S. are preparing to celebrate the national holiday. The Irish Voice spoke to members of the Irish American community about their plans for Thanksgiving, what they are grateful for and how they perceive the American holiday.

What does Thanksgiving mean to Irish people living in the United States?

"For me Thanksgiving is a lot like Christmas, family coming together, eating, drinking and being merry and thankful for the things we have. I really enjoy the day and can appreciate this holiday even though it's still relatively new to me."

Paul Byrne, who is originally from Dublin and now lives in Orange County.

"It means an unexpected and welcome extra holiday just as the long nights are closing in, and a reminder that Christmas is just around the corner."

Robert Shortt, correspondent for Irish broadcaster RTE, who is based in Washington, D.C.



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"Thanksgiving is more like a pre-Christmas to me. Just a quiet interim holiday, but this year I'll have my sister down from Springfield, Massachusetts for a pilgrims get together. So maybe I'll see Thanksgiving more for what it actually is going forward."

Maurice Landers, president of the Co. Limerick Association of New York.

"Thanksgiving actually did not mean that much to me till I met my husband. When I lived in New York a gang of us would get together in an apartment - whoever had the biggest one - and whoever could cook made the big dinner. "

"It was a great day for eating and drinking and relaxing with friends. When I met my husband I was introduced to military life and lonely soldiers and sailors, and my husband would bring home whomever he met with no plans.

"When I joined the Navy and ended up in boot camp over Thanksgiving and Christmas, I realized how lonely it is to be away from your family (the kind of lonely you feel getting off that plane at JFK after leaving Ireland) and on your own, relying on your shopmates, and you make the best of it."

"So when I was at NAS JAX I used to check with the ones I worked with to make sure they all had plans and if they did not they came home with me and my husband. We always made sure there was enough food for any unexpected guests. The house was full some years!"

Helen Diggs, originally from Louth, now living in Texas.

"I moved here in August 2002 and my first Thanksgiving was the most amazing experience. I volunteered with John Jacobson, the musical director of America Sings, in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. We (800 children plus volunteers) were given a police escort right through Times Square to Herald Square where we practiced."

"There was also choreography with letters of the word 'America sings.' I was the C in America! Then the day of the parade, America Sings opened the parade with 800 children dancing in choreography in Herald Square. We then had to take the whole lot of them on the subway after the performance and meet at the Museum of Natural History where we then took our places behind Santa in the parade. We then danced through New York."

"It was one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had in the U.S., dancing behind all the giant balloons. It really was breathtaking."

Caroline Duggan, Irish dance teacher in the Bronx.

"Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. When I first arrived here, I didn't understand why it was such a big deal. I really enjoy it now though, it's a chance to get together with family and friends and relax with great food."

"Given that it is a non-religious holiday with no gift exchanges involved it's a lot less stressful than other holidays."

Mark O'Connor, from Tralee, Co. Kerry, now living in Yonkers.



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"It is a time to meet up with family and friends. It is like having two Christmas days, except this one does not have all the gift giving."

James Foley, originally from Co. Kerry.

What is the best part of Thanksgiving?

"No presents and a few days off work."

Mary McAleer from Dublin, now living in Yonkers.

"My favorite part of the holiday is the long weekend off. It always seems to be the one weekend when all the girls can escape for an evening and have a great night and not worry about having to be up in the morning."

Fiona Brennan, who is originally from Derry, now living in Cortlandt Manor, upstate New York with her husband John.

"Calling home to say Happy Thanksgiving and hearing, 'Happy what? Shur we don't do that here at all girl.'"

Olwyn Triggs, private investigator from Cork who lives in New York.

"My favorite part of the Thanksgiving holiday is my father George and my sister Siobhan's mouth-watering spread. After dinner, we all pick names out of a hat for our secret Santa Christmas gift exchange and have a bit of a sing-song, with my father being the star of the show with his guitar."

"This Thanksgiving is going to be particularly exiting because my cousins are coming to visit us from England. They have never witnessed Thanksgiving, but they are interested in viewing what this question mark of an American holiday is all about. Our day begins with Mass, proceeds with the watching of the amazing balloons of the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, continues with a glorious dinner, and concludes with laughter, singing, and a bit of dancing."

Bernadette Gibbons, Queens, New York.

"Relaxing and having a four-day weekend. We also attend the Christmas tree lighting in Red Bank, New Jersey the day after."

Peter Carey, Locust, New Jersey.

"I think my favorite part of the holiday is the night before Thanksgiving because there is a mass exodus out of Boston and the place becomes fairly quiet, much like Dublin a few days before Christmas when all the country folk head for the hills."

Thomas Bonner, who hails from Donegal but moved to Boston to work withPricewaterhouse Coopers three years ago.

What plans do Irish people have this Thanksgiving?

"We will spend Thanksgiving with my wife Margaret and her brother John and sister-in-law Sarah. They cook and we bring the wine. I think we ended up with the better deal!"

Mike Brewster, who emigrated from Longford in June of 1989.

"I will be traveling to Cleveland where my roommate is from and enjoying Thanksgiving with her and her family, who I now consider to be my own."

Shelia Hughes, from Dublin but now living in Queens.

"I will be spending the day with my family. My mum is visiting from Ireland (Mayo) and is cooking dinner for us this year. There is nothing like your mother's cooking!"

Anne Marie Maxwell, Enterprise Ireland, Boston office.



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"This year we are having a very low key Thanksgiving and I am really looking forward to it considering the year I have had. My sister and I may attend the Thanksgiving Day Parade, the first time in about 10 years, and then we are going to cook Thanksgiving dinner at home, relax and watch movies. I am so excited just thinking about it!"

Lisa Murtagh, current Rose of Tralee from New York.

"I am very excited about my first thanksgiving in the U.S. I have been at a Thanksgiving dinner before in Dublin, because my best friend is married to an American, and I enjoyed that thoroughly. But this year is obviously different."

"I am going to dinner at an American friend's house, along with an English friend. There will be a few international people there, but the important thing is that it will be mostly Americans, so they can direct us in following the proper protocol and traditions. If that means drinking beers and watching football on TV for a good part of the day, well then so be it, that's the American way and I wouldn't want to offend my hosts!"

Conn Corrigan from Co. Tipperary.

What are Irish people thankful for this Thanksgiving?

"I'm thankful for the great people I have in my life, my family, my friends and my co-workers." Fiona Brennan.

"I am thankful to my school staff and principal here in the U.S. for making an Irish person feel welcome enough to be here for her sixth year. I am especially thankful to the children I teach and their families for adopting Irish culture and for being so involved with the Irish dancing and culture which I have brought to the school."

Caroline Duggan.

"My wife's homemade apple pie, and putting the feet up after dinner."

Tony Murphy, Prudential Ireland originally from South Armagh.

"I'm just happy to be here in America and thankful for all the opportunities it offers."

Mike Brewster.

"I will be thankful that all in my family are healthy. Also, my wife and I are especially thankful for our new arrival, Sienna, who was born in September."

James Foley.

"I will be thankful for such things as the food I receive, the house that I can come home to everyday, my loving and caring family, and that all of my loved ones are doing well."

Deirdre Burns, student at Dominican Academy High School in Manhattan.

"Good health of my family is most important. I am very grateful for my 84-year old grandfather making it through risky hip replacement earlier this year at Mount Sinai and making a full recovery from complications after surgery. My mother also just celebrated her two year anniversary as a cancer survivor and her long Irish hair is finally back, growing faster and faster each day. So a lot to be grateful for this year."

Lauren Woods.

"I guess I will be thankful for having family here to support me. It's tough not having your immediate family around so I am grateful for the family I do have and the friends that have become my extended family."

Shelia Hughes.

What is Thanksgiving like for an American living in Ireland?

Rebecca McAvinchey is originally from Chagrin Falls, Ohio, a suburb outside of Cleveland. She now lives in Dublin with her husband, Paul, who hails from Kilruane, Co. Tipperary.

Rebecca met Paul four years ago when she went to Ireland to do a master's at Trinity College. Her father knew an acquaintance of Paul's family through work and Paul was nice enough to let her stay at his apartment before she moved into her dorm in Trinity.

And the rest is history! Here's her story on how she celebrates the American holiday in Ireland.

"My husband and I generally pick a Saturday close to the end of November (since we don't get any time off here!) and invite his siblings and a few close friends to our house for dinner. We normally get all our recipes from foodtv.com (I love the Food Network in the states) as I only wanted to include real, American Thanksgiving recipes.

"My husband kept suggesting we have a soup course at dinner and I kept telling him that is not really how my family does Thanksgiving. The only real challenge we had was finding some of the ingredients in the shops here, and of course converting the recipe measurements. And we also have a terribly small oven, so my husband makes ham instead of the Thanksgiving staple, turkey.

"Fortunately, Fallon and Byrne, which is kind of like an American-style grocery store, opened in Dublin about a year ago, so we were able to find a few things we needed there. They even sell canned pumpkin to make pumpkin pie which is very exciting.

"Although, I have to say most Irish people do not seem to keen on eating pumpkin. Good thing everyone is open to eating everything else!

"So, as I said, we have everyone over around 4 p.m. (that's the time my family would eat at home) and I try to put some sporting event on the television in the background (in place of an American football game), and this year I requested that everyone wear a holiday sweater for kicks and pretend to speak in an American accent (though the latter did not last).

"After dinner we drank quite a bit and played board games. We just tried to incorporate quintessential aspects of American culture, I guess. I suppose in a way it's what our guests were hoping for and it made me happy even though it's cheesy."

Originally published Nov 2009



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