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Forget the Mayflower issues: Britain embraces Thanksgiving

LONDON – If you couldn’t be at home on Thanksgiving Day, stuffing your face with turkey and then collapsing onto the sofa in front of football, the next best place to have been in the world might be Britain. Kinda, sorta.

Everyone was at work, of course, because Thanksgiving is only an American holiday, so that’s weird for a start.

But the Brits, perhaps more than any other nationality, have done their best to embrace Thanksgiving, at least as a marketing opportunity. Dozens of restaurants offered Thanksgiving feasts. Turkey and pumpkin farmers report big spikes in sales. Big-breasted turkeys seem to be everywhere.

Part of that is because more and more Americans are living in Britain. The latest census report shows that some 200,000 British residents were born in the United States, up 26 percent from 2001. In Kensington and Chelsea, two swank London neighborhoods that many bankers and celebs call home, U.S.-born residents account for 5 percent of the population.

Another reason could be the “special relationship” between the United States and Britain – not just politically but in shared values, food and language.

Americana has become more trendy in London over the past few years. American accents can be heard on the streets of the capital’s richest neighborhoods as never before. New American-style hamburger places have sprung up everywhere. Some high-profile British-American marriages have fueled the fire.

In upscale Notting Hill, where American singer Madonna used to live with her then-husband, British filmmaker Guy Ritchie, there’s a food store now catering just to Yanks. The American Food Store, boasting the obligatory Stars and Stripes, sells such American favorites as Hostess Twinkies and Campbell’s Soup.

Texas-based Whole Foods, which operates several stores in London, recently put a sidewalk chalkboard outside their store on posh Kensington High Street, telling shoppers “We are here to make your Thanksgiving epic.”

Upmarket British grocery chain Waitrose even got in on the act this year. Waitrose’s many London stores are all sporting small “Happy Thanksgiving” displays, featuring a picture of a pumpkin wearing a pilgrim’s hat. Offerings included Ocean Spray cranberry sauce and Carnation evaporated milk. Fresh cranberries to make your own sauce were prominent in Waitrose’s produce section this week.

It’s not hard to see why Thanksgiving translates well here.

The Thanksgiving spread, minus a few very American touches, is basically what Brits call a roast dinner, the quintessential British meal. Roasting beef, pork, chicken, lamb, and on special occasions, a big turkey, is how Brits entertain family and friends on a Sunday or a holiday.

Alongside their Ocean Spray and Carnation offerings, Waitrose also made sure to sell that British roast dinner favorite: Paxo Sage and Onion Stuffing.

So making Thanksgiving dinner isn’t that hard here, though few people could have come Thursday if you had invited them.

And collapsing onto the sofa in a groaning heap with family in front of football? Priceless, but impossible.