Our first year overseas Thanksgiving surprised me by ranking my most difficult holiday. My cultural adjustment curve dipped lowest right around Thanksgiving making it the perfect storm for a flurry of emotions that first year overseas. I figured I’d be sad at Christmas so Thanksgiving sadness caught me off guard. Add to that the fact that it was my first time to celebrate a holiday away from family and…well…Happy Thanksgiving!
Thanksgiving each year since delivered a host of treasured memories. One year I picked up our roasted turkeys at the local hotel. The staff and I tried to figure out how I was going to take them home. None of us considered this problem beforehand for some mysterious reason. I ended up riding home in a taxi with two hot turkeys stuffed into plastic shopping bags!
Then came the year when a terrible stomach virus passed through our midst at Thanksgiving. 26 of us gathered that year and, well, sickness spread pretty fast in that environment and through the following weekend. Leftovers did not get eaten that year and it took me a year or so to overcome my aversion to some traditional foods. Some even gave a very descriptive name to the weekend following Thanksgiving which I will not share here. Let’s just say that year lives on in infamy.
A few year later we started celebrating Thanksgiving with more than just Americans. I regret it took me that long to take Thanksgiving across cultures. A turkey is huge but to someone who never laid eyes on anything other than a skinny chicken, a turkey is…well…it’s hard to give you a good picture of the excitement that bird caused. My friends sampled all the traditional items and we thoroughly enjoyed our feast.
But what really moves my heart at Thanksgiving now is that I learn to celebrate Thanksgiving more and more each year. We all love a feast and we all love food and we all love the decorations. But, what I love more than all of that is the time of thanksgiving. It is the point of our celebration and my non-American friends do not forget it like I am prone to do. They do not get as distracted by pecan pie, turkey, and stuffing or American football. I enjoy all those things but I fall prey to making them too central.
Last year I remember the tears we shed as we gave thanks to the Lord for the years events. Every year has its pain and its joy. We cried, we laughed and we sacrificed the sacrifice of thanksgiving. Because giving thanks is a sacrifice. The painful things yielded fruit and we knew it but we still cried.
These celebrations go to the heart of the first thanksgiving. I think the Pilgrims knew the sacrifice of giving thanks in a foreign land, with foreign food, with native people in the midst of a year marked by death and suffering. They gave thanks and I’m sure they cried in the midst of such a sacrifice. The foods they ate were not traditional to them…I remember this as I dip into some delicious fried rice and watch my children sample lumpia from the Philippines.
This week we celebrate Thanksgiving and I anticipate spending a lot of time cooking and preparing. But I also anticipate even more the time when we express our thankfulness with laughter and tears.