Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Most Bittersweet Day of the Year

As I sit here sipping on a cup of tea and munching on the last piece of leftover pumpkin pie, I reflect on one of the most bittersweet days of the year as an American living abroad, Thanksgiving.

People always ask me if it's hard spending the holidays away from home, and my answer is of course! Holidays are all about spending time with loved ones, usually in a familiar setting, and sharing in some kind of traditional celebration. Well, nearly all of that familiarity is swept out from under you when you decide to spend a holiday abroad, which inherently makes you miss home. Also, due to today's social media, the reminder of everything your missing out on at home is more present than ever. So yes, of course I miss my home, friends and family during the holidays, but that doesn't mean I can't still enjoy the holiday.

Thanksgiving is my favorite and least favorite holiday to spend away from home; I'll explain. Thanksgiving is a holiday that is purely about spending time with loved ones. There's no presents, no jealousy, no greed, just appreciation for one another's company. For that reason, spending Thanksgiving away from home is really difficult, because that company which is the central part of the holiday is gone. However, one of my favorite parts about Thanksgiving is that it's intrinsically unique to the United States (and Canada). Many foreigners don't know anything about Thanksgiving except for that we eat turkey with family, if that. This gives me an incredible opportunity abroad to educate others about what Thanksgiving is all about, and naturally the best way to do that is by sharing a traditional Thanksgiving meal abroad with my new friends.  I've done this for three years now, and every year the meal has turned out to be a smashing success. Not only do I get to introduce foreigners to new foods like stuffing, gravy and pumpkin pie, but I get to educate them about the roots of the holiday and the tradition of giving thanks before enjoying the meal. Without fail, every year everyone enjoys the food and the values shared along with it. It's definitely one of those "proud to be an American" moments for me.

This year I enjoyed Thanksgiving with my three roommates, two new friends I've made here (who happen to be one of my students and her sister), and some friends of my roommates. The eight of us enjoyed a delicious menu which included mashed potatoes and gravy, a purée made from a local sweet potato, stuffing, steamed veggies, corn fried onions, pumpkin pie and roasted chicken (the only non-authentic part of our meal, turkeys are time-consuming and extremely expensive). In traditional Thanksgiving fashion, we cooked a ton of food with the intention of having leftovers. However, the Costa Ricans DEVOURED the food and the only leftovers were half of the second chicken, one small side of mashed potatoes and a few slices of the second pumpkin pie. If that's not proof that they loved the food, I don't know what is! I obviously couldn't host all of my students at my house for a thanksgiving meal, but I still wanted to give them a little taste of the holiday.  So this week I made an educational PowerPoint presentation about the history and tradition of Thanksgiving, and brought them all a slice of pumpkin bread so that they can understand our American obsession with pumpkin flavor, along with the recipe so they can enjoy it for years to come.

So hopefully now you understand a little better why Thanksgiving is such a bittersweet holiday for me. I've loved introducing others to the holiday for the past three years but I've got to admit, I'm looking forward to spending my next Thanksgiving at home. I'm long overdue.

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