Giving Thanks in Australia

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Thanksgiving in Australia has always been an odd affair for my partly-American family. The springtime weather is all wrong for a huge harvest-season feast. Cranberries of any kind are hard to source. Curious Australian friends want to understand the story behind the holiday, when many — including my family — have taken the good from the day and rejected the origin story, which is mostly fiction.

“It’s about eating together and being thankful,” we tell them. In recent years, my son’s teenage friends have started showing up for the holiday, wearing suits and bearing bottles of wine, fascinated by our American conventions. I make them tell us what they’re thankful for before we eat — a ritual I hated as a jaded teenager — but one that they approach with gusto.

Yesterday at my table, many people mentioned how thankful they were for our newfound freedom after almost two years of intermittent lockdowns. We expressed gratitude that we might see our loved ones again soon, after being separated for so long after federal and state border closures. We were thankful for our health, for vaccines, for one another.

Missing from our table was my closest friend, an American who also lives here in Melbourne. She hates thanksgiving: as a lifelong vegetarian she’s repelled by a holiday that centers on a large dead bird; as a critical thinker, she’s appalled by a holiday that glosses over the violence that marked the colonization of the Americas. I’m sympathetic to her disdain, but I also feel strongly that traditions can change and adapt, and as long as we’re not hurting anyone we should grab our joy where we can (I concede that the turkey might disagree). Taking a day to be together and explicitly tell one another that we are thankful for our kinship feels especially vital this year, when we’ve missed out on so much togetherness.

Unlike Halloween, which is slowly making inroads in Australian culture among school-aged children, Thanksgiving will never catch on here outside of expat gatherings like the one at my house. But perhaps it might inspire more of us to pause and think about the gifts we’ve been granted, and recognize the goodness in our lives. I see no downside to that.

Are there celebrations in your life that you brought from other cultures? What do you think they might teach Australia? Let us know at [email protected].

Now for this week’s stories:

Australia and New Zealand

Swimming at Bronte BeachCredit…Michaela Skovranova
  • I Hated Swimming. Then I Moved to Australia. In Sydney, something changed. I embraced the uncertainty of the sea, following my children into a culture of volunteer lifesaving.

  • ‘Burning’ Review: Pulling the Fire Alarm in Australia. A new documentary looks at the visceral impact of wildfires and climate change on the country, from its beleaguered people to sickly koalas.

  • Suspect Is Charged With Murder in Case of Two Vanished Campers. In a remote southern Australian area famed for its forbidding landscape and unsolved mysteries, the couple had set out for a weeklong trip and were never seen again.

  • Australia Defamation Case Signals a Crackdown on Ordinary Citizens, Critics Say. A government minister sued and won over a brief Twitter post that called him a “rape apologist.” A journalist sees “asymmetric warfare.”

  • New Zealand plans to reopen to international visitors by the end of April.Emerging from one of the world’s longest lockdowns, the country plans to admit most fully vaccinated travelers by the end of April without a mandatory hotel quarantine.

  • Contending With the Pandemic, Wealthy Nations Wage Global Battle for Migrants. Covid kept many people in place. Now several developed countries, facing aging labor forces and worker shortages, are racing to recruit, train and integrate foreigners.

  • Some Pacific nations will take years to vaccinate their populations, new research predicts.Papua New Guinea will have vaccinated only a third of its adult population by 2026 if it continues at its current rate, according to an Australian think tank.

  • Australia will allow some visa holders to return in December.The country will allow skilled workers and international students to enter next month, the government announced.

  • Thousands rally against coronavirus restrictions in Australia.Demonstrators gathered in cities around the country to protest vaccine mandates and other rules.

Around the Times

Vaccination rates in South Africa are falling far short of the nation’s goal, only administering 130,000 out of a daily goal of 300,000.Credit…Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
  • South Africa detects a new variant displaying a ‘big jump in evolution.’The density of mutations raises concerns. While it’s too early to say, new variants can limit a vaccine’s effectiveness. Hours later Britain banned flights from six countries in the region.

  • How a Prosecutor Won in the Arbery Case With a Mostly White Jury. Linda Dunikoski struck a careful tone in the trial of the men who killed Ahmaud Arbery, a case that many saw as an obvious act of racial violence.

  • Russian Mine Blast Kills Dozens, Among Them Rescuers. Investigators said a gas buildup at a Siberian mine with a history of problems led to the deaths of at least 52 people.

  • The Penknife: A Thanksgiving Memory

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