Here’s something I’m thankful for: My parents have a huge heart for the international students at the university where Dad works. They have very different personalities and ways of showing that love, but they have together “adopted” quite a few students over the years. My father even walked one or two down the aisle when they were married!
This all began the second decade of my life, as I was in middle and high school. All those years, I tried (with varying levels of effort and success) to put up with these intruders on our special family time – namely, Thanksgiving and Christmas – but with very few exceptions I always felt at least a little bit of resentment at having to to share the special days with outsiders.
Then I graduated from high school and began an internship in Texas. Followed by four years of college in Indiana. Neither of which is close enough for the folks to come pick me up for Thanksgiving, and one visit a year (Christmas) was all we could afford. Wow, did my perspective change! All at once, I was the outsider on these holidays, each year staying with a different family and intruding on their special traditions and time together.
Thankfully, none of them made me feel unwelcome or like I was an added inconvenience. I watched Veggie Tales and danced with young siblings, rode along to visit relatives, took long chatting walks, played a crazy-fun game of (Florida? Liverpool?) Rummy with the whole extended family, gazed at stars, woke up early for my first (and second) ever “Black Friday” shopping trips, helped decorate the house and make Christmas candy, played with pets, sat with the family and watched the first person ever win a million dollars from Regis, so many things. My senior year, one housemate and I stayed in the house 6 of us were renting and hosted a small Thanksgiving dinner with my visiting brother, her visiting mother, and her freshman sister in attendance.
This is my seventh year in China. Obviously I have many more non-traditional Thanksgivings under my belt now, though it’ll be another 10 years before Thanksgivings away from home outnumber Thanksgivings at home (assuming I don’t add to the latter category in the meantime). Each time it’s different – much more different than the post-high-school Thanksgivings, though there are also some similarities between each of the Thanksgivings in China, the main ones being that my biological family is not here and there are usually people present who are not Americans – so it’s not even “their” holiday!
Some Thanksgiving-in-China memories:
Each year at the university I’d teach my students about the first Thanksgiving, then have them put on short skits to re-tell the story, usually with some very humorous (at least for me) results. (I blogged about it several years ago but at the moment can’t find the post.)
2005: My first year I had Thursdays off but no oven, so I spent Thanksgiving with my one electric hot plate preparing stuffing, pumpkin pie filling, crust, apples, crisp-topping, and whipping cream and then put it all in my fridge. The next day after teaching I went to my Australian family’s house and, together with a couple cans of sweet corn I’d found and some chicken Celia cooked, shared with them their first-ever Thanksgiving dinner!
2006: Chris P hosted Thanksgiving at his place. He had just bought a huge (for China) oven. Probably big enough for a 9×13, if you’re wondering. We managed to bake 4 China-sized chickens in it. I gave the butcher a hard time when I bought the birds, insisting she cut off the feet and heads but not the legs (and I ended up having to remove the necks myself). I remember cooking in Chris’ huge but sans-hot-running-water kitchen with Stacey K, and then Celia rescuing me by carving those birds – I was pretty sick of them by then! It was a fun meal, and the Chinese-American-Australian group shared things we were thankful for. (I think the Americans were the minority!)
2007: I hosted a meal for a small group of friends who were students at my college – Prima, Kate, and Samson – and one fellow teacher, Lloyd R. It turned out well, and I was really satisfied with how much I’d managed to make on my own with my one functioning burner!
2008: I cooked a turkey for the first time! My oven quit just before Thanksgiving, so Celia kindly loaned me hers… and then mine was fixed just in time, so I had space to make the turkey AND the stuffing. Kate helped me keep it basted as it cooked during my regular Saturday morning English class of 8 small children and assorted mothers at my apartment, then I rushed across town as soon as everything was done for a meal at Anna W’s place. (See more photos on the blog post from that year!)
2009: New to QD, I took part in a big dinner with the community of teachers at my apartment complex. The turkey was HUGE and beautifully made, and we played a VERY loud game of Catch-Phrase… wow, a good time to get to know everyone, and to get in all my socializing for the weekend in one afternoon! Then on Sunday morning another group of foreigners had a Thanksgiving brunch – thankfully I was ready for more people-time by then 🙂
2010: I went to Blake and Marivic H’s home with a small group of fellow teachers. Two of the men there had wives who were out of town, and were co-workers that I’d never really interacted with before. It was a really nice time to get to know them and my hosts better, as well as Lisa F, who I already knew a bit more as she was another teacher who came to this school from already living in China in the fall of 2009.
2011: This year, we had a staff dinner in early November with 4 turkeys and 12 long tables! I plan to be participating in two more Thanksgiving dinners on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, one for local college students and foreign teachers at a school for local students, and one for fellow foreigners (mostly from my school) who live near/in my apartment complex.
I love that I can remember so many of these Thanksgivings. I cherish time with my family, but I can’t say that I remember much about who was there or what we did all those Thanksgivings together, certainly not to pin it to any particular year, aside from the one that involved sledding at my uncle’s house (the only time we ever celebrated it away from home). It no doubt helps that I’m older, but I think the perspective and richness of these different experiences also helps keep them in my memory.