Last year, in London, I had my first “expat” Thanksgiving. In the week leading up to it, I hadn’t thought about the holiday at all, so it surprised me when on that November Thursday I woke up and felt depressed. After not feeling the slightest bit homesick for the first 3 months I had been away, I was suddenly attacked by a strong need to be in Colorado watching football and eating turkey. Instead, my London Thanksgiving celebration involved heating up some store-bought mashed potatoes and turkey in the microwave for an early dinner before working a 5-close shift at the pub.
Anyway, after that experience I resolutely decided that I would make my second Thanksgiving abroad infinitely better in order to make up for the last one. And now, a year later, I think I actually managed to do it!
This entire week has felt very Thanksgiving-y and festive. Even though I didn’t have any days off, it still seemed like a bit of a break since I taught my classes using holiday-themed activities that were fun for both the students and for me. A lot of the students had never heard the story of Thanksgiving, so they enjoyed learning about the history of the Pilgrims and the Native Americans. We also had conversations about what we were thankful about (varying from the very concrete, e.g. “my computer”, to some more thoughtful answers like “universal healthcare” or abstract ideas like “hope”) which were interesting to listen to. In my youngest class we drew “handprint turkeys” and then used them to decorate the walls.
All of these classes got me in the mood for the real Thanksgiving celebration that Álvaro and I had planned with some of our friends. Since it’s not a holiday here, we decided to celebrate on Friday instead of Thursday so that everyone would be able to relax and enjoy the dinner. We ordered a turkey from the market and then assigned everyone a typical dish to bring. Álvaro and I were hosting the dinner, so we were in charge of the turkey and the stuffing. Since I had never attempted to cook a turkey before, I was a bit nervous. This nervousness only increased yesterday morning when Álvaro returned from the market with a massive 7 kg bag of turkey. All of the women at the market had tried giving him advice on how to cook it (inject it with wine, let it cook for 9 hours, cover it with tocino/bacon, etc.) but we decided to put our faith in my Betty Crocker cookbook.
Making the stuffing was simple enough, but actually stuffing the turkey required a bit of time and thought. Luckily the cookbook had detailed diagrams of where to put the stuffing and how to maneuver the various limbs of the turkey. However, since we didn’t have all of the correct equipment, we were forced to resort to my sewing kit in order to stitch various parts of the turkey together. It was quite the strange ordeal. When the turkey was finally stuffed and roughly approximated the picture in the book we stuck it in the oven (thankfully it fit, but only barely) and left it to cook until the guests arrived. In the meantime I masterminded finding American football streaming online and connected it to the tv in order to set the atmosphere (and so that I could watch the Nebraska game, of course).
At 9 o’clock people started arriving for dinner. Although we were celebrating an American holiday, we were eating according to the Spanish schedule. Everyone crowded into the kitchen for the celebratory moment of taking the turkey out of the oven. The smell of meat and spices filled the kitchen, wetting everyone’s appetite and the turkey itself with a roasted-brown color that looked amazing. Miraculously, without a meat thermometer and with all of our hodgepodge sewing the turkey turned out perfectly.
We carved it and then brought it to the table along with all the food everyone had brought. It was quite the feast with stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, broccoli, cranberry sauce, corn bread, pumpkin pie and several bottles of wine and lambrusco. Everyone seemed to have the impression that it’s an American tradition for each person to say something that they are thankful for before starting the dinner (though I don’t believe I have ever done this before), so we jokingly went around the table saying thanks before diving into the food. For a dinner made by seven Spaniards and only one American, it actually all tasted very traditionally American and of course very delicious!
So my second Thanksgiving abroad turned out to be a complete success, clearly surpassing the first one. Even though it is a holiday that makes me miss home and my family, I am so thankful that I have met such wonderful people here in Salamanca with whom I could spend this holiday and share this great American tradition. I can only hope that next year’s Thanksgiving is as good as this year’s!