We all know that Thanksgiving has always been a time for friends families to get together, give thanks, eat turkey and watch football. The story of the Mayflower, Plymouth Rock, the pilgrims and the “indians” is a story that we all were taught in grade school and that most of us can recite with ease. This quintessential American holiday is not celebrated by just Christians, Jews or Muslims, it is celebrated by Americans from every background. As Americans, we are taught that Thanksgiving is our holiday, and that we are the only ones who celebrate it (many times forgetting that Canada also celebrates their own Thanksgiving on the second Monday of October). It wasn’t until two years ago that I had the opportunity to see Thanksgiving from an international point of view, and ever since the quintessential American holiday has taught me a lot about how the world sees Americans and how others view our traditions.
Two years ago, I spent my first Thanksgiving away from home while I was studying in Costa Rica. I was looking forward to celebrating the holiday together with my Costa Rican friends and one of my best American friends, Martha, who came to Costa Rica to visit me during her break from school. My first Thanksgiving dinner abroad was spent at the beach with Martha, watching the sunset, drinking coke and rum from a can, and eating fried chicken (the closest substitute to turkey we could find). A few days later, we were able to celebrate our first Costa Rican thanksgiving, planned by my friend Maybell. Martha and I were able to teach our Costa Rican friends Thanksgiving traditions, such as breaking the wishbone, while enjoying turkey, sweet potatoes and other traditional Thanksgiving food. For me, Thanksgiving 2010 marked the beginning of new and slightly unconventional Thanksgiving traditions.
Ever since my first Thanksgiving abroad, I tend to see the holiday from a more international point of view. During my senior year at the University of Kansas, I was excited to spend Thanksgiving with my family after living abroad for a year and a half. I also wanted to show my international friends what a traditional American Thanksgiving was like. Antti (from Finland), Christin and Vinzent (both from Germany) were our Thanksgiving guests of honor, and we all spent the evening talking about our own family traditions and enjoying great food. I was also able to share a Kansas City tradition with my friends by taking them to see the Christmas lights at the Country Club Plaza, which are turned on for the first time on Thanksgiving evening. Being able to share traditions with your friends and teach them about traditions that may seem a little quirky can be a great learning experience and a lot of fun.
This year marked my second Thanksgiving in Costa Rica, but I found myself talking a lot about O Dia de Ação de Graças, which is Portuguese for Thanksgiving. I made a special point to talk to all of my Portuguese classes about o Dia de Ação de Graças, tell them the Thanksgiving story in Portuguese and teach them important vocabulary relating to the holiday. I asked all of my students to share what they knew about the holiday, and I was surprised at some of the answers I got. ”Profe, was it when Christopher Columbus came to America for the first time?” ”It’s that one day when everybody eats turkey, right?” It was then that I realized that I had just made the assumption that most Costa Ricans knew what Thanksgiving was all about. I really enjoyed teaching my students about the history behind the holiday, and I even had them draw their own Thanksgiving perus, which is Portuguese for turkeys. Unfortunately, I did not get the three day weekend that most of my American friends were enjoying, but I did manage to continue the fried chicken tradition with my friend Saphire.
I have a lot to be thankful for, and many times I do not take time to reflect on it. I am so thankful for my boyfriend, who has been extremely supportive of me for the past two and a half years. I am thankful that I am able to see him every day and continue building our relationship that we have worked so hard to maintain. I am also thankful for the very supportive friends and family that I have around the world. I can only imagine what it would be like if my son moved to another country, so I want to thank my family for being so supportive of me. I am also thankful for my education, which lead to a job that I am enjoying very much. There are countless things that I give thanks for which I will not list here, but more than anything I am thankful that I am happy. What more could someone ask for?