Thanksgiving is, hands-down, my favorite holiday. And preferably, it’s spent in Spokane, WA at my parents’ house. My mother, the ardent purveyor of family traditions, makes Thanksgiving what it is to me through the series of familiar events we’ve come to love. The day begins early with the annual “Turkey Trot,” a somewhat formal fun run through the park in which my parents live after which friends and family gather in our house, rosy-cheeked and wet from the snow, to drink coffee and hot cider and munch on quiches and pastries while we catch up on the last year. Between the turkey trot party and last-minute cooking with my mom, my sisters and I catch the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Since all of the older relatives have died, our dinner table (complete with all the traditional fare, of course) is populated by a couple family members and several “orphans” as my mom calls the folks who find themselves away from “home” and family this holiday. There’s little drama in my family, but a lot of talking with the occasional raised voice to be heard over someone else (we are not a quiet family). I love the holiday because it’s not commercial, it involves family and friends and you eat delicious foods only cooked once a year.
In my adult years, I don’t make it home for Thanksgiving as often and have occasionally found myself living abroad during the holiday. That’s why NPR’s “Project Expat” series on Americans celebrating Thanksgiving abroad struck a chord with me. There’s something about being overseas during this very American holiday that brings other American expats together even more. During Peace Corps, all volunteers convening in the capital, Lilongwe and celebrated at the U.S. Ambassador’s home where we all cooked the meal together and spent the day playing lawn games and swimming. One of my favorite overseas Thanksgivings, though, was my first living abroad experience while studying in Quito, Ecuador in 2001.
Of course, being a Thursday, we didn’t get the day off of school. So, my writing class of all American college students convinced our professor that since this was a U.S. holiday, we should spend the class time not in class, but in a bar. As we loaded up on Pilsener, we exchanged stories of our various Thanksgiving traditions. It wasn’t the turkey trot, but it was an occasion that struck the right tone for the holiday – a tone of enjoyment, of eating, and of drinking. Drinking in an Ecuadorian bar with our Ecuadorian professor and American classmates felt appropriate.
With the tone set, I set off, a little tipsy from class-in-a-bar to prep for the Thanksgiving shindig organized and hosted by our amazing Ecuadorian study abroad directors Eugenia and Fernando. Our tight-knit group of 11 students from Willamette University divvied up cooking responsibilities and then finished prep at Eugenia and Fernando’s house later that evening. Thanksgiving marked the beginning of the end of our 5-month study abroad experience. We had one month to go. This meal represented both a longing for home and sentimentality about our last weeks in Ecuador. It was a Thanksgiving unlike any we had ever experienced – all of us far from home, but feeling at home in an entirely foreign way, if that’s possible.
Although memories of Thanksgivings in Spokane tend to blend together, the Thanksgivings abroad stay clear in my mind. I suppose the appeal of Spokane holidays are the comfort and familiarity and the allure of Thanksgiving abroad comes with the attempt of replicating the familiarity in a way that always turns out unique and memorable. So it stands, wherever I am and with whomever I spend it, Thanksgiving will always be my favorite holiday.