Thanksgiving ushers in Island’s holidays

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Avalon’s Halloween parade has come and gone, and so the season of “The Holidays” begins here on Catalina, across the country and in places all over the world.

Avalon’s Halloween parade has come and gone, and so the season of “The Holidays” begins here on Catalina, across the country and in places all over the world.

And so it has arrived – Thanksgiving in Avalon. This holiday is perhaps the only time on the Island that is not at all about tourists or our local economy that depends on them. It is the holiday where Islanders get to focus on family and friends instead. Chances are that if you find yourself travelling to Catalina on this special holiday, it is highly likely that you either live here now or you once called this home and are returning now to familiar faces.

In Avalon, Thanksgiving is when the Island folk are seen as one big family. Since the city of Avalon began to find its roots over a century ago, Thanksgiving has been a celebration of families coming together, forging unique ways of celebrating the autumn holiday with their Island neighbors. Thus, Thanksgiving on Catalina has always been a day for families coming together.

One example is the Canby family of Avalon. There was an era of Thanksgiving holidays when the family of Charlie and Claudia Canby would gather with about five other Catalina families and bring the holiday down to its American roots.

According to Claudia Canby, the families would get together and camp at Little Harbor. They would then set about preparing a Thanksgiving feast of feasts in the open air, roughing it in a way that would make Zane Grey proud.

The key element in the feast was the turkey, which they would deep fry – Island style. As the tradition took off, Charlie Canby put his legendary handyman skills to work, creating a makeshift apparatus for cooking the big bird.

“He made the oven, which is a deep fryer, out of a 50 gallon drum,” Claudia Canby said. “He cut it in half length-wise and put hinges on it and added two rows of grates, like an oven rack, and drilled holes in it for air circulation. We would put it over the fire and burn some mesquite for the flavor.”

Meanwhile, the Canby’s and their neighbors would have already set about making up the vegetables for the feast. These would be pre-cooked, wrapped in aluminum foil and placed into the fire pit to be re-heated.

“It was fun,” she said. “About five families would bring all their kids, some home visiting from college. All did their part and pitched in to make the feast something to remember. Some would work on building the fire, others would bring the gravy or the cranberry sauce,” Canby said.

The same spirit of Thanksgiving lives on today in the hamlet of Avalon.

 “Thanksgiving here on the Island to me has always seemed like a special event of sorts. It’s as if you held a big family reunion with all of your relatives that you haven’t seen in ages – all of your siblings and cousins and their ever-growing families, the aging grandparents, nutty aunts and uncles, and all the relatives you keep meaning to visit throughout the year but never find the time. Now imagine you have that reunion on the same day as your big high school reunion, and all of your former classmates that you haven’t seen since high school are here as well. And before you know it, you start to look around and realize that the rest of your neighborhood had the same plans as well,” said the Catalina Islander’s Jennifer Leonhardi.

“It is a special day spending time at home with family, eating a big meal and watching the football game, and then heading downtown that night to reconnect with so many friends that I grew up with who have come home for the holiday.

“There are also great examples of kindness that you see throughout this tight knit community on Thanksgiving. For example at the Marlin Club, where anyone is welcome, the food is free, and although the people you are with may not be family or friends, there is a great feeling of “togetherness” that fills the air.

“My husband is the cook in our family, and it is a rare occasion when you can find me in our kitchen preparing a meal. But for some reason, it is the complete opposite on Thanksgiving, and you will have a hard time pulling me away from the kitchen on this day. I have always gone completely overboard with planning and usually end up preparing a feast that will feed about 30 people. I make sure that all my friends that don’t have family here or anywhere else to go for a ‘family meal,’ stop by my house for a visit and a full plate.

Thanksgiving remains a truly unique holiday on Catalina, where for a moment it seems as though time stands still. It is like a momentary lapse in our otherwise bustling and sometimes chaotic lives, where we can truly feel the spirit of the season and enjoy the company of loved ones. It is a time which of all holidays, belongs to true Islanders, nearly to an exclusive degree.

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