An Expat Thanksgiving
It’s the end of November: in Holland we are in the middle of Sinterklaas craziness and in America everyone is at the grocery store, lists in hand, preparing for their Thanksgiving feast.
I’ve been living in Holland for almost 20 years now. In my first years as an expat I was adamant about celebrating Thanksgiving. Not the easiest task in Amsterdam, where turkeys needed to be ordered at least a week in advance and the kitchen was crowded if two people stood side by side at the countertop. My first apartment didn’t even have an oven. Turkey in the microwave? It was not the kind of celebration I knew and loved growing up in Texas.
Although the circumstances in Holland were cramped, the essence of the holiday was not lost. Thanksgiving is about gathering together and I loved sharing with my Dutch friends a day dedicated to gratitude.
As the years passed, Thanksgiving started becoming just a Thursday at the end of November. I was either working or busy with our ever expanding family. Inevitably I was always too late ordering a turkey for the actual Thanksgiving Thursday, so turkey became chicken, and little by little Thanksgiving became a memory of a holiday I celebrated growing up.
This year I was determined to make Thanksgiving a reality. Our children are old enough to appreciate this wonderful tradition and even though we don’t live in America, I don’t want them to miss out on this great opportunity to celebrate gratitude.
Resurrecting Thanksgiving to establish our own traditions made me realize how simply Thanksgiving can be celebrated.
The kids and I cooked together. We used basic recipes with fresh ingredients so not to stress out about complicated cooking techniques. Highly recommended: the Barefoot Contessa cookbook called…’Back to Basics‘. Fantastic results with minimal stress.
When the kids were tired of stirring and mixing, they busied themselves with making the placecards for everyone. I had found some great ideas on the Martha Stewart website: cutouts for pilgrim hats, a cutout for making a boat for snacks, all the turkey cutouts you could possibly associate with Thanksgiving, but that turned out to be too difficult to coordinate between the kids and the kitchen. So we improvised, as we usually do as a family. We started with the cutout feathers for the turkey but my daughter was not convinced of how the turkey looked (“why is that thing dangling down from its neck?”). Granted, if you have never seen a live turkey you would probably ask the same question. The feathers were already cut out, so instead of making little turkey placecards we made pilgrims and indian placecards. Easy for the kids, easy on mom!
We decorated the table with candles, hydrangeas from the yard and little projects the kids had made at school. For the placemats we cut out brown paper (you could also use brown paper grocery bags), based on this fantastic idea I saw on Pinterest. It was actually this idea that sparked the idea of a simple, down to earth Thanksgiving. I would love to credit this idea/photo, but cannot find who originally posted it. Whoever you are: thank you for this idea!
Between dinner and dessert we filled in our lists and it was such a great way to share with one another. Lots of laughter, some awwwws and there were even some tears in sharing our blessings.
To all who are celebrating Thanksgiving: count your blessings on this day! Stay true to the essence of the day because there is so much joy in gratitude.