Thursday, November 28, 2013

thanksgiving, à la française

before i left the states back in early september, my mom went above-and-beyond the call of duty and made me a full thanksgiving dinner.  she was worried that i would be sad about missing out on the best meal of the year, so she pulled out all the stops. and i was truly grateful, because there is nothing like sitting in my dining room with my whole family and eating some seriously fantastic grub. and she was right, in a certain sense – today was a sad day, in a way. but the pang i felt in my heart when i thought about everyone gathering together back home without me was soothed in no small measure by the joy that i’ve gotten to experience during this season in france. not only did i get a bonus thanksgiving-in-august, but i got to celebrate it in three different ways over here in europe! so really, moving abroad just multiplies the festivity, if you can find the right people. and it certainly magnifies the sense of gratitude!

thanksgiving #1 - friendsgiving

this past week, i had the absolute privilege of sharing a thanksgiving meal with about 30 people, hosted by the home-church group that my friend devon and her husband attend in paris. the dinner was at the home of michael and sara, who live in a beautiful apartment in the marais district of paris and evidently have no qualms with welcoming all the waifs and strays! there were plenty of expats there, from all over the world, and a few native frenchies as well.. my friend jessie and i enjoyed getting to know several of the guests as we all chowed down on the standards – turkey, stuffing, potatoes, corn casserole, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce (!!!) – as well as some traditional dishes from other countries! and let’s not forget the desserts, which took up the entire table after the first round was cleared away. the atmosphere was lovely, the food was delicious, and the people were warm and welcoming – it truly felt like a family gathering, despite the fact that the majority of the group had never met. at the end of the evening, several of the church members made sandwiches with the leftovers and encouraged all of the guests to grab a few on the way out, so that we could share the bounty we had enjoyed with someone less-fortunate who looked like they could use something to eat. it was a really sweet gesture, totally in keeping with the attitude and generosity of everyone i met that evening. i ended up leaving one sandwich next to a woman sleeping bundle of ragged blankets in a little alcove down the street, and giving another to a man near notre dame, who sat under an umbrella with two little dogs tucked inside his over-sized coat. it wasn’t much, but i was happy to give someone a break from hunger, if only for one night.

thanksgiving #2 – chez moi

the sensation of immense gratitude carried over to monday, when i finally got home to my little village to find a thanksgiving package from home waiting for me on my doorstep! i knew it had been sent, but it was still such a nice surprise to see my mom’s handwriting smiling at me from my threshold the moment i got home. and the contents of that box were faaaantastic! here’s an inventory: poultry seasoning (for the stuffing!), jif peanut butter (per my request), cupcake baking cups, taco bell sauce packets, red sprinkles, a nature valley protein bar, turkey gravy mix and alfredo sauce mix from kroger, some christmas decorations, a sponge, betty crocker peanut butter cookie mix, some tea, airborne tablets, a turkey dishtowel, and a card. now, i know that some of those things might seem random or kind of meaningless… but it was so great. sometimes, it’s just nice to see things from home for novelty’s sake; i don’t even like taco bell, really, but those sauce packets made me smile! and i may live in one of the culinary capitals of the world, but there are times when absolutely nothing beats an apple and peanut butter. and the simple act of hanging that turkey-appliquéd dishtowel on my toaster oven’s handle made me feel like i was back in the kitchen at home. but i digress...

cooking for one is hard; i’ve said it before, but it’s never been more true when you’re cooking a meal that usually needs to serve a dozen people or more. i decided that i wanted to do a little thanksgiving meal for myself, just to get a taste of home, so i asked my mom to send my grandmother’s stuffing recipe (hence the poultry seasoning in my box). well! this morning, i made that stuffing, and let me tell you… it was great. i toasted, cubed, and staged the bread last night, so it was all nice and dried-out by the morning! the process itself was simple – sautée onions and celery, add chicken stock and seasoning, mix in bread cubes, put in oven – but the act of making it gave me such a feeling of nostalgia! granted, i’ve never been the one to make the stuffing before, but just having the smell in my apartment was enough to make me feel like i was back in franklin. i also made a teensy serving of mashed potatoes and got two turkey breast fillets from the supermarket – three cheers for a thanksgiving dinner for one! and as a bonus, i skyped my parents while they were at our big extended family dinner, so i even had the chance to say hi to everyone!

thanksgiving #3 – sharing the message at school:

as an english assistant, i’m somewhat of an ambassador between my american culture and that of my students. last week and this week, a few of my teachers took advantage of the holiday season to talk about america – in some of the younger classes, that meant discussing thanksgiving! i can’t explain how strange it was to hear a holiday that i’m so familiar with boiled down to the bare bones – “it’s a day where families gather to eat a turkey and pray to God.” i mean… that’s true for some people, i guess, so i couldn’t correct them. but i enjoyed the lessons, because it was a great opportunity for me to share what thanksgiving really means. the kids had basically no idea (short of the turkey/God thing), so i had a blank slate! after a little reflection, i told them that thanksgiving was a day where families gather together and shared a meal (had to keep the english level pretty simple..) in order to express their gratitude for everything they have. despite being a historically catholic country, france is exceptionally unreligious, so i tried to stay away from talking about thankfulness in purely a religious sense. also, explaining the concept of blessings was difficult. the story of the first thanksgiving was also challenging. historically, the whole “pilgrims and indians eating together” might not be entirely accurate… but at least it gives a better origin story than “we kinda just came and displaced and/or killed pretty much everyone, and then centuries later, the government arbitrarily decided to create a holiday about it for commercial purposes.” sooooo… pilgrims and indians it is. i focused more on the fellowship and quality time aspects of the holiday. :)

so, in summary, i am thankful for…
…a God who loves me unconditionally and never fails to provide for me, 
who lets me make mistakes so i can learn the way i learn best,
 and who blesses me endlessly every day.
…a family who supports me and encourages my insatiable desire for adventure.
…a job that allows me to pursue those adventures, 
while simultaneously providing new experiences in and of itself.
...coworkers and students who are supportive, engaging, and patient.
…a body that puts up with all the shenanigans i put it through 
and remains in moderately good health – traveling is hard, y’all!
…a wonderful apartment in a great community.
…the people i love who are spread out all over the world (literally).
…the miracle of technology, which lets me stay connected with aforementioned 
loved ones via various social media.
…peanut butter.

happy thanksgiving, everyone! :)

ps - i documented my little thanksgiving cooking experience here if you’d like to see it!


1 comment:

  1. Love your Thanksgiving recap! I find this is the hardest holiday to be away from home on because it is just a normal day for everyone else and it really makes you feel foreign. But I am learning apart from missing family that Thanksgiving abroad is pretty special. It turns into a week-long event and includes people from all over the world! Glad we could celebrate Thanksgiving together :-)