I have holiday envy. There, I’ve said it. Whether it be Passover or Ramadan, Diwali or the Mooncake Festival, there is barely an international observance, whether religious or otherwise, that I would not wish to have as part of my cultural heritage. Oh, sure, we in Australia get our fair share of awesomely unique celebrations—in my home city of Melbourne, we get a day off for a horse race, and even the Federal Parliament takes a break to see which horse will run fastest on that magical first Tuesday in November. But as cool as that is (and it is), it is the fourth Thursday in November that has long fascinated me, my knowledge of it gleaned almost wholly from TV, movies and, of course, books: the American Thanksgiving.
I don’t recall exactly when I first learned about this most excellent of occasions, but I am pretty sure it was from shows the likes of Little House on the Prairie, Family Ties and Diff’rent Strokes. There would be schoolhouse pageants about the Pilgrims and their unwontedly gracious guests, family dining tables groaning under the weight of exotic-sounding dishes like pumpkin pie and candied yams, and bewildering sporting contests ardently followed by all the males of the house. From Charlie Brown to President Bartlet, and from Holly Hunter in Home for the Holidays to Katie Holmes in Pieces of April, if there is a story involving a family gathering designed to give thanks to...whatever it is you’re all so thankful for, then I am completely in.
Imagine my delight, then, when I long ago discovered Thanksgiving by Janet Evanovich, several years after its 1988 release date, but also several before Stephanie Plum made Evanovich beloved outside the confines of Loveswept fandom (the book has since been rereleased, back in 2006). It is the delightful tale of Megan Murphy and Dr. Patrick Hunter, instant enemies who soon become friends—and then more than friends—as they team up to care for an abandoned baby, all the while navigating the many family dramas inherent in this particular titular affair. Full of its author’s signature zaniness, the novel also brings a tangible sense of occasion to the tale, especially as it is set in Colonial Williamsburg, than which I don’t think I can even imagine a more appropriate locale to celebrate this particular event.
Another favorite author to have dealt with Thanksgiving is MaryJanice Davidson, in this year’s Undead and Unsure, her twelfth Queen Betsy novel. While I have long been of the opinion that this series is due a conclusion (please, for the love of Sinclair, let’s end this thing; the paper-thin story arc is completely played out and the characters are barely recognizable anymore—not in a good way), the fact that Betsy is trying to use a belated family Thanksgiving dinner to get her half-sister to forgive her for a certain spoilery something that would be a deal-breaker in pretty much any other family... well, that was kind of charming. And that is what Thanksgiving is for, right? Repairing family fractures with the aid of cornbread-stuffed turkey and green bean casserole? Or so pop culture would have me believe.
A more successful outing in a long-running series that incorporates the holiday is this September’s Thankless in Death by J. D. Robb, in which future-detective Eve Dallas plays host to her partner Roarke’s huge family for the holiday, while they two of them also attempt to track down a newly-fledged serial killer. The thirty-seventh book in Robb’s In Death series—let me say that again: thirty-seventh—it is the best one we’ve had in a good long while, giving us a spine-tingling new format, some clever twists, and a truly creepy juxtaposition of the normal and abnormal, the light and dark (and not just concerning the turkey meat).
Another Thanksgiving-themed novel by a well-loved author is Thanksgiving Prayer by Debbie Macomber, though as it was one of her earliest forays into the realm of romantic fiction, let us just say...well, it was one of her earliest forays, and leave it at that. First published under Silhouette’s Inspirations imprint back in 1984, it is a very Christian-based work (understandably enough). For me, however, one of the things that I like so much about Thanksgiving is that is such a secular holiday—yes, the Pilgrims were devout, and yes, there is an element of “saying grace” about the whole thankfulness thing, but it is also a very inclusive celebration, as every American can surely find symbolism in their nation’s shared history, regardless of creed.
Except for, perhaps, Native Americans? How different might the holiday be had Wednesday Addams’s vision of events taken place? Indeed, rarely do TV shows or books cover Thanksgiving from the indigenous side—there are some exceptions on screen, like in Northern Exposure, where the natives of Cicely, Alaska refer to the holiday as the Day of the Dead and lob tomatoes at white people, or in Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s “Pangs,” when a vengeful Chumash spirit visits syphilis on Xander, but in romance novels the occasion seems to be exclusively about the familiar festival trappings and never about the harsh realities of what it all actually means, in an historical, sociological and, indeed, genocidal context.
But then, isn’t that kind of the point of Romance? Ignoring harsh realities in favor of a prettied up version of just about everything?
Category romance abounds with such, and while more Thanksgiving reverence served up with religion can be found in the Love Inspired line, offering up such titles such as Thanksgiving Groom by Brenda Minton, A Texas Thanksgiving by Margaret Daley and The Loner's Thanksgiving Wish by Roxanne Rustand for your reading pleasure, the true spiritual home of all such rose-colored glasses-ized Thanksgiving romance is, of course, Harlequin’s American Romances imprint. Offering up tales such as A Randall Thanksgiving by Judy Christenberry, Once Upon a Thanksgiving by Holly Jacobs, The Rancher’s Family Thanksgiving by Cathy Gillen Thacker (all available for your Kindle), and most notably, A Small Town Thanksgiving, by one of my personal favorite category romance authors, Marie Ferrarella, these books are, to me, the very essence of Thanksgiving romance: the yearning for family, the forgiveness of past wrongs, and, yes, the idea of thankfulness, for all that we have and all that we may yet receive, given that so many people in the world are so much less fortunate than are we.
Whether this holiday for you is a time for reflection, of reunion, of redemption or merely of waiting for the huge Black Friday sales to begin (or, like for me, it is merely a fascinating window into an alien-yet-desirable tradition), the fact remains that it is also a time rife with romance, because what is more romantic than feasting, family, friends and football?
So, Happy Thanksgiving, folks! Or, to those Native Americans amongst you: Happy You’re Welcome Day, and/or Sorry about the Day of Mourning. Meanwhile, having now experienced a few of these bountiful traditional feasts myself, I am thankful that candied yams are not a regular celebratory staple in my country. Marshmallows do not belong anywhere near vegetables, America! The pumpkin pie’s a winner, though. Have a slice for me, won’t you?
Rachel Hyland is the Editor in Chief of Geek Speak Magazine.