As an Englishman in New York I’m steeling myself for my first Thanksgiving on US soil. It’s an intriguing time to witness: a non-denominational holiday that manages to unite pretty much all Americans.
But as the country begins the shutdown for the big feed, it’s clear that in this land of entertainment media, the holidays won’t be passing quietly. First up: the weather. We’d been treated to some excited reporters in upstate New York last week. The mega-dump of snow around Buffalo had ushered in images of well-insulated dogs and outdoor snow fridges, perhaps in a bid to give viewers respite from some of the more pressing domestic political issues.
But the Weather Channel took the biscuit in the lead up to Thanksgiving, issuing a warning of impeding holiday Armageddon: Storm Cato spreading out over the northeast and mid-Atlantic.
The channel has taken fervent pride in naming winter storms on behalf of the American populace – quite unofficially – despite being sneered at by the US National Weather Service, the authorised body that points out that winter storms don’t always materialise (details, details…). And, anyway, the channel’s PR drive has paid off: Cato has been adopted by some networks and caused a flurry of activity on social media.
Yet while punters have been scurrying around changing travel plans and preparing for Cato to unleash its wrath, one man who might have been revelling in the diversion tactic is president Barack Obama. Thanksgiving is a brief respite for the commander-in-chief. It’s a time when he gets to indulge one of the county’s more bizarre customs of pardoning a turkey, thus preventing it from meeting its maker. This year Obama got to choose from two Ohio birds – temporary DC residents – in what has been likened to an alternative Miss Universe competition.
Bitesize news perhaps but this turkey pageant is one of the easier decisions Obama will have made this year. It’s been tough since the Democrats’ trouncing in the midterm elections and the executive order on immigration, seen by many as an uneasy middle ground. Add to the potent mix the racial tension in Ferguson, Missouri – following the grand jury’s controversial decision – and the president might wish he had to make life-and-death decisions about poultry on a daily basis.
As Americans tuck in to their cranberry-sauce-smothered meals this Thanksgiving, Obama will probably be happy to see the snow keep falling. Anything is better than it raining on his parade, after all.
Ed Stocker is Monocle’s New York bureau chief.