An Expat’s Thanksgiving

by Liz Caskey on November 26, 2009

Every fourth Thursday in November in the US, families countrywide join to celebrate Thanksgiving Day, which literally in Spanish is translated to, “The Day of Active Thanks”. How cool that this is a holiday!! Thanksgiving transcends racial, ethnic, political, and socioeconomic lines: from Hessidic Jews to African immigrants to Muslims, Hindus, the Asian community, exchange students, and many others. Everybody celebrates Thanksgiving, and if you don’t, usually you will get invited to somebody’s house. It’s the spirit of the day. Obviously you see this in how Thanksgiving weekend travel is chaotic as friends and family cross the country to be together for the long weekend.

And yeah okay, Thanksgiving is iconic for its food. Even after nearly a decade of living in Chile, Thanksgiving is still the holiday I miss most; the holiday tradition I keep true as if I was still abroad. The only difference is now I celebrate with my husband, his family, expat friends, and Chilean straggler buddies who lived abroad (a.k.a. my extended family). And it’s hot. Usually in the 80s, so stuffing yourself smells just silly.

Historically, Thanksgiving marks the grand party that the Pilgrims and their Indian compadres threw on Massachusetts shores in 1620 to celebrate the first harvest before the cold winter. I always imagine that spread, the prepared bounty of the land: wild turkey, sweet corn (or succotash), roasted pumpkin, sweet potatoes, wheat ground into flour for hearty bread. I love to learn about Thanksgiving’s regionality in the US: from the New England coasts and cranberry chutneys to the Southerners from Louisana who swear that injerting a turkey with spices (including cayenne) and frying it is s-u-b-l-i-m-e; or Texans corn bread. Growing up in Pennsylvania, we had the usual suspects: creamy garlic mashed potatoes with gobs of butter, sweet potatoes covered with gooey-sweet marshmellows, green beans in some form or another, juicy savory stuffing, and of course pumpkin pie. Pumpkin pie this year sounds like it is morphing into pumpkin cheesecake. After all that, cheesecake? Really?

I finally understood the timing of Thanksgiving after I realized Chile’s Independence day, September 18, is their holiday equivalent. Things start early in the day with a lot of cooking duties: make the empanadas and massive barbeque with salads, desserts, and the works. So like for Thanksgiving, much of the morning is spent in the kitchen and the drinking starts anytime after the guests arrive and/or the game starts (2pm). Dinner is usually around 4pm after the soccer match or rodeo is over (or football in the US, are you seeing the parallel?), and of course, a big siesta ensues.

But before demolishing the feast,  wise words are shared (not necessarily religious), known as the blessing, where give thanks for the food, being together, and especially appreciating what one has. We actively take a moment to pause and give thanks for what we have and what we have created in our life. That’s the part of Thanksgiving that is so meaningful for me. This is  especially intensified and felt when shared with others. There definitely is an invisible energetic tie that unites me to the US by partaking in the holiday on the same day, even from 5,000 miles away. Somehow, I tap into that energy too and share it here with my family. In this accelerated go-go-go-do-do-do world where everyone considers themselves as a priority and we live cut off from each other, reconnecting with yourself, then with others, and stopping to thank the Universe for all the abundance and being alive is fundamental. Actually, it is something we should do every day, not just once a year.

So this November 26, I will be actively giving thanks, even though I’ll be at the end of world in Patagonia. The menu will be king crab and quinoa instead of turkey and sweet potatoes, but I’ll celebrating with you all.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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