Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Very Expat Thanksgiving

"They're called yams?"

"Is that a kind of jam?"

"Wait, so how do you pronounce ham?"

That's how the conversation went this weekend when I celebrated Thanksgiving in Durango. Yes, this weekend, the first weekend of December. Because of its uniquely American heritage, (okay, Canada can take some credit), Thanksgiving does not coincide with the Spanish calendar, and so, on November 22, in place of turkey and pie, I went to work and spent the evening sneezing in bed. Luckily, some new friends had this holiday under control and we celebrated expat style--in December! 

Being dwarfed by Christmas and secular in nature, Turkey Day is, at least in my experience, one of the holidays least burdened by tradition and more open to improvisation. That's not to say that there are no traditions: On Thanksgiving, there should be turkey. That much is clear. But maybe you're far from home. Or you celebrate with friends. Maybe you have an annual reservation at Mr. Wong's. It's okay, Thanksgiving is flexible.

My students are sometimes confused by a holiday whose only contemporary pillar consists of a very large meal, but I personally like that Thanksgiving is a bit open-ended. It invites new groups of people to share new experiences. The point is that turkey and table bring people together, to give thanks.

And I have a lot to be thankful for. Enough to fill this little piece of cyberspace, after all. As a student and an expat, I've had my share of improvised Thanksgivings. The panicked phone call, "Mom, how do you cook a turkey!" never fails to make me smile. Last year, my friends in Galicia welcomed me with a meal I will never forget, and in my university days the culinary adventures were quite varied but always memorable. 

This year was a classic Thanksgiving 101 endeavor, complete with power outages and calls to home. 

In the end, we were all very full, and I was touched by the experience. Everyone dug into the food and the conversation. People piled a bit of everything onto their plates and requested recipes--and even seconds! This particularly made an impression on me. I can usually count on a laugh when I show my students a photo of the typical Thanksgiving plate loaded with food, because it is followed by at least one exclamation of "Que asco!," or, "how disgusting!" The Spanish typically eat their meals in platos, or courses, so the single American food-mountain plate that is Thanksgiving, not to mention the foreign dishes like stuffing and yams, don't always meet the appeal of their expectations. This weekend, however, was a meeting of open minds and empty stomachs, and I think that everyone learned something new.

It can be a bit of an effort to bring old traditions to a new home, but the results are absolutely worthwhile. To savor a little taste of home in a new place, to reminisce the quirky habits of your family with new friends, and to share the culture of your native country with a new one, all weave a story that you can look back on during the Thanksgivings to come. 

To keep your appetite, and because I know you're curious, I will procede to narrate the night in photos.

On a chilly afternoon in early December, 
I arrived at the perfect moment to witness the auspicious beginnings of our Turkey Day bird.

Completely unopposed to (and actually rather experienced in) floor-cooking, 
I was excited to join the turkey basting fun.

A few fuses had been blown, 
but the Thanksgiving dream team had everything under control.

Though perhaps not everything was appropriate for guest viewing; 
better shut the door to switch turkey pans on the floor.

Once phase one of the turkey mission was complete, it was on to phase two: The side dishes.

Although this meal was American style, we stepped aside to make room for a Spanish pro.

Not sure how this happened, but it was inevitable.

Even Thanksgiving can't take the tortilla off of a Spanish table! 

Have you celebrated Thanksgiving abroad? Was it an adventure?

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