It’s been a trend in the recent blogposts of other YASCers, and for good reason. A November Thanksgiving is one of our American holidays, and one that has come to be synonymous with being together with family and friends. For those of us now far scattered from those family members, and still in the beginning stages of our friendships with people in our new countries, it’s an especially poignant time. This was the first Thanksgiving I’ve spent away from family members, the first time I’ve been far enough away that I couldn’t simply go home for the day.
And indeed, here in the Philippines, Thanksgiving Thursday was a normal day, even if I wasn’t teaching because of the Scout Official For a Day activities. We teachers showed up for work, the students showed up for class, and aside from one or two curious fellow teachers, who weren’t sure if Thanksgiving was sometime that week or the following, not much was made of it in my host school.
Instead, I was invited over to the Brent School, a much more internationally-based school, although it was also run by the diocese. The chaplain there knew I would be alone for Thanksgiving and wanted me to have somewhere to celebrate. And there, at least, I was surrounded by people who knew what Thanksgiving was, to some extent. Several of the teachers at Brent, including the headmaster and his wife, were Americans, and this was their chance for a Thanksgiving as well.
And yet, even as I enjoyed the chance for turkey and stuffing and cranberry sauce, I had to tell the chaplain that no, this wasn’t exactly my family’s style of Thanksgiving. It wasn’t just that we were lacking some of my family’s traditional dishes. Whatever else, Thanksgiving isn’t just about the food, or even, sacrilege as it might be to say this, the food is the least important part.
I’m used to Thanksgiving meaning that the family is working together to make it. I’m used to polishing silver for part of the afternoon, pulling all the kid’s toys out of the dining room and into the basement, used to helping set up the big table, with one of us kids ducking under to help put the support in place for the extension leaves. I’m used to Dad making stuffing and wrestling with the bird in the morning, to Mom grinding the scrap meats for the gravy with our old fashioned meat grinder, to Elizabeth and John bringing over the best ever pumpkin pie and green bean casserole. I’m used to the fact that at every formal dinner I will be sitting next to my disabled sister because I’ve got the best reflexes for keeping her out of my food.
I’m used to the sense of family and belonging, and although everyone at Brent was wonderful, that wasn’t my family or my home community.
Earlier that week I hosted a dinner party for a few of my new friends at Easter College. I’d set it up before I remembered the dates, but went ahead with it anyway. Over the course of an hour or so after school was out, Ma’am Rouilla and I bought supplies and made supper, and we were joined by Sir Jordan and Ma’am Karla. Wine was poured, food was shared, jokes were told.
It wasn’t a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. None of the key components were there: there was no turkey, no stuffing, no casseroles or pie. We had potatoes, yes, but as gnocchi, not baked or mashed. It wasn’t held on the last Thursday of November, and it was anything but fancy as we drank from mismatched cups in the middle of the hospitality department’s laundry room.
But it was at this meal: too early, too casual, with none of the correct foods, that I felt like I was part of a true Thanksgiving dinner. I’m thankful for good friends made, for conversation and acceptance, for a way to participate in a group. And I’m also grateful for the Brent community for making sure that I was not alone on Thanksgiving day.
A table at Brent, set for Thanksgiving Dinner. Note, they're already starting to decorate for Christmas.