Note: Parts of this little blurb was written for the Thanksgiving edition of a newsletter we put out each week at the Chateau.
I love Thanksgiving. I love the pandemonium of the kitchen, the smell of turkey in the early hour of the morning, the Macy’s day parade, eating yourself silly, all of it. I even enjoy the chill of a cold Ohio November day because it makes the warmth of the holiday that much more cozy.
As my first Thanksgiving away from my family, and my country, approached, I was worried. The excitement of traveling that weekend was a little dulled with the thought that I wouldn’t be able to live all of my Turkey-day traditions. Would it even feel like Thanksgiving?
But that first Thanksgiving, in Luxembourg, was wonderful. Not only was there turkey and mashed potatoes, but I remember realizing what a wonderful family I had found at the Dolibois Center as we clamored for second helpings of pumpkin pie. Of course I missed my Ohio family, but there was something so wonderful about this new ‘family’ with whom I had missed trains, conquered cities, and discovered Europe.
A few years later I found myself in France, teaching English. Once again, I was outside of the United States on my favorite holiday, and I felt those pangs of homesickness creep in again. I had found such a wonderful family-away-from-family to share in the holiday spirit a few years earlier, there’s no way I would get that lucky again.
Well, it turns out I was wrong, but it took a little adjustment on my part. Thanksgiving à la mode française means a rather interesting conversation with a confused butcher (turkey is a dish usually reserved for Christmas holiday celebrations) and a visit to the exotic fruit section of the grocery store for sweet potatoes (strange, but true). It wasn’t the Thanksgiving celebration of my childhood, but it was wonderful none-the-less. There was mass chaos around the stove as dishes were prepared, there was a familiar November chill in the air, and pick up games of flag football were replaced with frisbee. We had invited all of the international language teachers to our celebration. The table was filled with not only turkey and gravy, but also pain surprise from France, Kartoffel from Germany, and cakes and pies from Australia. In total, there were eleven nationalities represented, each contributing a different culinary dish to the spread. And you know, it still felt like Thanksgiving. While the food and country had changed, the feeling of gratitude and family were far from absent.
The lesson I learned that year was that traditions are valuable and important for our nostalgic memory, but the true meaning of this holiday is sharing in the gratitude of the bounty of the season with others, friends, old and new.
Looking back hundreds of years ago, to that ‘first’ Thanksgiving, wasn’t this always the true intention of this celebration? Here were people, not too different from us, confronted with a new country, new food, and new customs, taking a moment from their cultural reinvention to just give thanks. To reflect on the past, how far they’d come, and what they had learned.
And in the same spirit of reflection from those early days, there is much to be thankful for. In Europe, an incredible group of students, an unbeatable team of faculty and staff, a beautiful (sometimes freezing) Chateau, and of course, a wonderful semester. And back in the good ol' USA, the best friends and family a girl could ask for.
The infamous France Thanksgiving (Francegiving), November 2008.
Photo compliments of former prom king, Jon Boyette.