Gathering of More

It is an odd thing to live as an expat in a country where one beloved holiday of mine, Thanksgiving, is a non-holiday.  It's a regular day of work and life for people here.  Sure, there are a few grocery stores where you can find a frozen turkey with little to no options on brand.  And yes, there are Americans who do celebrate, but it's usually the day after, which is Friday, the start of the weekend.  But we are the minority.  We are the foreigners who choose to cling to something familiar and carve out a bit of that tradition in a culture where it's not.

And this might be the second year, out of my 31 years of being a part of this tradition, where it will seem like a non-holiday.  Last year we chose to eat out at a Thai restaurant,  the four of us.  Somewhat because my daughter's first birthday party that day dominated my mind and my physical resources.  But mostly because we didn't know anyone very well and we were not invited over to anyone's celebration.  And a smaller reason was that i didn't know where to buy the necessary Thanksgiving ingredients to pull off such a meal fit for the traditional feast.  And so, despite all of my longings for a traditional Thanksgiving day, we bucked the system and went out and had a very non-traditional meal of Thai dumplings and pad Thai.  And it was fine.  It was unique.  I was thankful.

This second year living abroad, where Thanksgiving almost here, the plans thus far leave it feeling empty and not complete.  As of now, despite sending out an email to those living in our compound, inviting all of those who want to celebrate with us, it will remain a family-of-four event.  I was conscious of gathering supplies and ingredients as i saw them beginning in August when we returned to this country:  pumpkin puree, cranberry sauce, cranberry juice, boxed stuffing, and just recently a Jenny-O brand, 12 pound turkey (currently thawing in the fridge).  I was going to bring this back as a traditional holiday for my family.  Satisfying my desires mostly, I must confess.  But even though assembling all of the traditional ingredients was satisfying, a Thanksgiving, to me, needs people gathered around.  I'll take anyone:  strangers, acquaintances, co-workers, international students, widows and widowers, neighbors, family, the destitute, the broken hearted, criminals, orphans.  I want to fill my house, my villa, with these people.  Because these types of people have been at the best Thanksgivings I remember.  I want a gathering of more.

Growing up, we often had extended family over, which is quite normal in many Thanksgiving-celebrated homes.  Over the years, my kind-hearted mother, would often invite opinionated widow-friends to share the feast with us along with the widower neighbor and his older son who lived with him (and only few years ago committed suicide shortly after his father's death).  Our house had people who we shared a meal with and a bit of quaint conversation.  We accepted them and enjoyed their humble presence.

And then I lived in a Christian ministry after high school (or before living there, I often visited during the Thanksgiving school break), where we invited anyone who wanted to be with us, to eat with us.  We used the downstairs warehouse, hidden behind the free food and clothing store, to celebrate in.  The table was laid with a few turkeys and bowls of mashed potatoes and a few other modest side dishes.  No matter, because it became more then enough to warm the bellies of those who came to be with us.  Sitting together throughout the tiny warehouse, an amalgam of people tied together by the thread of love and acceptance, we broke bread and gave thanks.  Some loaded their plates as if this meal had been their only one in days.  Others swaggered in, alcohol still on their breath, covering pain and wounds.  Older women who had been abandoned by family, came to sing loudly the Christmas songs played after the meal.  It was joyous and it was full.

When we lived in Pittsburgh, one of the first Thanksgivings there, we hosted a Thanksgiving dinner.  We ate turkey, potatoes, and pumpkin pie with international students who had never experienced a thanksgiving meal before.  For them, this was their non-holiday with unusual foods.  Nonetheless, we enjoyed each other's company as we gave them a piece of our life experience. The next year a handful of good friends swarmed our small but sufficient kitchen, cooking up the most delicious Thanksgiving lunch.  With all of those "foodies" working together, i don't think i've ever eaten so well with such diverse flavours.  We were many and the house was warm.  The year our second daughter was born, the evening i came home from the hospital, was Thanksgiving day.  Even still, that night, some friends brought us over a non-traditional pasta dish that we, with me sitting post-labor-uncomfortably on the couch, ate together.  It was a small gathering, but our hearts were beyond full.  They were stuffed.

So i look at our modest plans for a traditional meal on Friday, and I feel a bit empty.  Of course I love that I get to be with my sweet, wonderful family.  That is in itself a reason for a full heart.  But after so many Thanksgivings, I want a gathering of more.  I want my children to know that we are a family who invites others in.  That sharing a meal is such a beautiful thing among people:  no matter the appearance of those come to sit with us; or the lamenting of singleness and loneliness a few may share around the table; or the brokenness in spirit marked in a person's crooked posture; or the newness of such a holiday to international travelers, fulfilling their curiosity; or the specifications of food eaten so that will not endanger their glucose numbers; or the limits on how well known they are to us.  The gathering of more means more love and thankfulness will fill our hearts.  And that is what has made this holiday such an important  one for me.  I am thankful for what they comprised of in the past, and I will set out on this new version remembering all that I do have to be thankful for, even if it might look a bit less full around the table, it won't mean my heart will mirror that.  And perhaps next year, there will be more.