A Confusing Thanksgiving in Panama

  Panama City, Panama (The Panama Report) I had been thinking long and hard about my invention of a toothbrush that you don't have to throw away, with bristles of such resistance that they simply don't wear old, when I realized it was November 22nd which, in the United States, is the day that fat people gorge themselves on yams and turkeys and cranberries, all in the name of some indians or something. It was a bit of a pity I hadn't realized it sooner but in Panama, we do not experience the type of forewarnings to such days of importance like we do at home.

In the States, holiday preparations start long before the actual event so that by the time it's arrived, you really have no excuse but to be all festive and geared up. I recall a time shopping in a large discount grocery store-the type of place with tall ceilings and toothpaste for sale in industrial sized crates-where a junior nativity scene had been set up near the entrance.

There was fake snow which looked like wet cotton, covering an astroturf sort of phony grass, atop of which was this cute little manger with, of all things, a talking Jesus.

The display was motion-activated, so when you walked past, Jesus would lift his head, as if waking up from a terrible dream, and shout some sort of commands-I'm really not sure what he was saying but I'm pretty sure it was something about gifts. The point was, my mind had been conditioned, by a talking Jesus, to be ready for the Christmas. The talking Jesus was also advertising a special on laundry detergent, but that's beside the point.

In Panama though, as people here don't celebrate many American holidays, keeping up to date with these things can be difficult. And more difficult can be explaining to locals just what our holidays are all about. You never realize how little you know about your home country until you have to explain it to an outsider.

"What is it about, your Thanksgiving?" asked curious Elida, one of our maids.

It was a fair question really, albeit not one I'd heard for a very long time.

"Well, the Thanksgiving is for to celebrate family" I said commonly. "For to celebrate family and country and ...oh shit." Simple words like harvest and native indians were somehow escaping me, much less the concept of a ritualistic vigil at Plymouth rock. I had been pressed into the position of representing the traditions and history of an entire nation, not unlike an ambassador, except I wasn't getting paid.

Kevin decided to help me out. "The Thanksgiving is first thanks to the pilgrim mens," he chimed. "The pilgrim mens and pilgrim womens. Yep. they were nice, the pilgrims."

As he finished his last breath, I realized it probably would have been less confusing if Kevin hadn't said anything at all. And to make matters worse, Keenan decided to contribute to our riveting information session.

"The Thanksgiving in US of A is just for to have football games and everybody eats one...chicken. Everybody!"

If I had never been to the United States, like Elida, I certainly might wonder seeing as though (according to us) everyone takes off the fourth Thursday of November so they can watch football and worship a large chicken. The misunderstanding was less a language barrier and more, I fear, our inability to explain our own holiday as anything more than family, food, pilgrim, football and chicken. While it's a nice and convenient way to describe something, simply listing keywords has a way of coming off as terribly uninformed. But in reality, that's exactly what we were.