Having lived abroad for 5+ years now, I no longer sit around wishing I could go home. I don’t get upset when hiding eggs on Easter, I no longer secretly mourn my American style Christmas, and my 4th of July woes are all but non-existent. My daughter is lucky to live in a multi-cultural family, and living in a country that doesn’t belong to any of us. This way of life has provided us with ample opportunities to celebrate and party the whole year round, incorporating American, Dutch and English traditions into our own. I hope that these beautifully diverse memories are the ones that our daughter will hold close to her and mirror with her own family someday, no matter where we go or end up.
Thanksgiving has always been the one exception to this. It is a holiday that I hold close to my heart and is vitally important to my year. I haven’t had a real Thanksgiving with my own family in a very, very long time- so I have had to create those idyllic moments myself. I cooked my first full Thanksgiving in college for all of my international friends, I just couldn’t bear the thought of them not having all of the wonderful food and thankfulness during their time spent abroad in America.
My first Thanksgiving away from home I was studying abroad in The Netherlands. I worked my butt of for days to make sure I had a proper American feast to serve my Dutch family. I remember their expressions so clearly, the absolute shock that I needed to make so much food for so little people. The uncertainty that they would be able to try everything. The comments on American gluttony, and their Dutch incapability of wasting food or using more than they need. That was their first Thanksgiving of five so far, and I am happy to report that they are all complete converts. My father-in-law prepares speeches for the table which document what he is most thankful for over the past year. My mother-in-law helps out with dishes and ladles (spiked) eggnog while I cook. My husband has deemed Thanksgiving ‘The Best Holiday of the Year’, and he means it.
The special thing about Thanksgiving, and the reason that non-Americans love it just as much, is that it isn’t all about the food. The food is important of course, but there is no other holiday that simply celebrates being together and taking a moment to actually express what you have to be thankful for in your life. I like to make everyone who joins my Thanksgiving table share what the year has given them, whether it be a new job, child, or that they were able to pay their rent every month. This makes first-timers nervous at first, but by the end we are all closer and more like family than the day before.
When we moved to England I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to fill our Thanksgiving table with friends and family in time for the holiday. We didn’t know a soul, and if you have been an expat you know that making connections in a new country can be slow going. I shouldn’t have worried. Not only did our Dutch family make the trek over (they had the taste for turkey now) but new acquaintances joined as well- who are now some of the best friends we have here. Then we took Thanksgiving to a new level of greatness and I imported a turkey fryer. It was exciting for all the new-comers, which you can see by the amount of smart phones taking videos.
When you move abroad, holidays can be especially hard. I no doubt miss my friends and family back in America a little more every fourth Thursday of November, but now I have my own celebration to look forward to. I feel especially thankful to have new friends and family in my life who I can share such a special day with, and it makes me incredibly happy to see how special the day has become for them too. We will be celebrating this Saturday with deep-fried turkey, candied yams, homemade eggnog, and pecan pies aplenty. (No day off in England for turkey or shopping I am afraid.) I look forward to sharing the day with you in a few days time, but until then I hope you have a very happy Thanksgiving. No matter where you are in the world, be sure to take a moment and be thankful for all that you have been blessed with.