Thursday, November 25, 2010

My First American Thanksgiving (since 2002)

Photo courtesy of

So, this is the International Woman of Mystery's first Thanksgiving in the US since 2002 - when I was home briefly between living in Bali and living in China.

I wish I could say that I was so happy to be back and celebrating this great American tradition. And I am happy to be back in many ways.

But mostly, today, I felt lonely, underwhelmed, and out-of-place.

First of all, the holidays are often a bit tough and lonely when you are single. There is no special person  who you look forward to spending a long cozy weekend with. Who can brighten up an ordinary day or holiday as the case my be, and make it wonderful. There is no one causing you to look forward to the holiday just because you know that no matter what, just sharing it with them will make it special and fun and just perfect.

Adding to this sense of loneliness, my family is rather small - so they don't really fill the void that being without a partner creates. Although I have various Aunts and Uncles and cousins, they are scattered about the US and we don't tend to spend holidays together.

My immediate family is my mother, my father, my brother and I. Growing up, we celebrated most holidays with my grandparents (mostly the ones on my father's side). Sometimes our cousins would join for a big dinner at my grandparent's house. But often it was just the 6 of us. But my grandmother - who was the one who made holidays so festive and special - passed away a couple years ago (and is missed by me every single day) and my grandfather is now in the nursing home.

We are now in that phase of life where grandparents are no longer around and neither children nor even significant others (for my brother and I) have yet to arrive (perhaps in my family they never will). And let me tell you holidays suddenly have become rather sad and lacking in some sort of magical spirit that only the very young or the very old can bring to the holidays. Without my grandparents around, holidays have stopped being so special and magical.

My mother is not a big holiday person -and neither is my father. And although they did a great job at making the holidays meaningful when we were younger, as we got older, it was my grandparents who made the holidays special and festive and preserved the traditions. In other words, once the holidays stopped being about the children, they started to be about the grandparents. And in a natural cycle of life, once the grandparents are no longer around, ideally there are children around to fill the void and the cycle continues - but since neither my brother nor I are planning to push out babies anytime soon.... well, we have interrupted the natural cycle and this leads to a very unsatisfactory feeling during the holidays.

And let me tell you, I'm the kind of person who LOVES holidays! There is no 'Ba-humbug' here.  I can see myself in the future as the crazy lady who always invites the entire extended family over to her way too over-decorated house to over-indulge in lots of holiday goodies and goes totally way over the top every time - and loves it!

So, as I mentioned, my first Thanksgiving back in the US was rather underwhelming. My brother decided not to come home for Thanksgiving (despite being in Boston on Monday - he is now in DC playing music). My Aunt who was supposed to visit but got sick and didn't come. My father, my mother and I drove 2 hours (and then 3 hours back) to see my grandfather in the nursing home where we had bland stuffing and mashed potatoes and dry turkey. The best part about the meal was the gravy.

No. Of course the best part was being with my parents and my grandfather (don't get me wrong, I'm very thankful that my grandfather is still around and that I could be with him on this day and I wouldn't have it any other way). But let's face it spending Thanksgiving at a nursing home is never ideal and I couldn't help but feel  a little sad. I couldn't help but miss my grandmother. I couldn't help but reminisce about Thanksgivings past when my grandfather was young and healthy and would proudly cut the turkey and say grace (he is so much the same but at the same time so different than he used to be and sometimes it breaks my heart). I couldn't help but feel envious of friends and colleagues who were participating in large happy Thanksgiving dinners full of lots of family and friends as we sat at a lonely table in the nursing home cafeteria choking down dry turkey and screaming across the table at each other so that my grandfather (who is hard of hearing) can hear us.

It's funny because while living abroad, every year I definitely missed Thanksgiving and was sad not to be at home with my family. But this year, I found myself missing Europe - especially Sweden. I even found myself missing Swedish food! Cranberry sauce is just so similar to lingonberry sauce (a typical Swedish dish - if you are interested to try it, just go to Ikea and get the meatballs, it will come on the side) and I found myself wishing it tasted more like lingon (and laughing at myself because I remember the first time I had lingonberry sauce, I wanted it to be more like cranberry sauce).

And I found myself thinking that the Thanksgiving spread is nothing compared to a typical Swedish Christmas smorgasbord! If I had to choose, I would choose the Swedish julbord (Christmas table) over Thanksgiving any day. But I remember those first years in Sweden that I spent thinking that Swedish holiday food just didn't live up to American holiday food. I wonder when my point of reference changed? It was so gradual. I didn't notice it at all. One day I just felt more Swedish than American I guess...

I also have spent some time today reminiscing about Thanksgiving days spent abroad. Of course I was always working on Thanksgiving day and for the most part, Thanksgiving was a non-event. But I do remember each year recognizing the fact that it was Thanksgiving and thinking about that throughout the day.

I remember the year in China where we had great plans to either order in (you could literally order in a Thanksgiving dinner from the American store) a Thanksgiving dinner or go out to eat. But we started drinking right after work and this lead to us ordering pizza which led to us drinking bijao (Chinese rice wine - NEVER a good idea, trust me on this one), and then going to a karaoke bar and belting out American songs totally wasted.

I remember at least 2 Thanksgivings where I had big work dinners in Stockholm. I remember the Europeans toasting me and the other Americans because it was Thanksgiving. I remember wishing I was having turkey rather than salmon. I remember a Thanksgiving spent mostly on a plane back from Moscow. I remember a Thanksgiving where I had take-out Thai food. I remember a Thanksgiving where I ordered a turkey panini from the Cafe down the street and lit a candle and had a glass of wine and sat alone in my apartment wishing I was in the US. I remember last year in London going to a friend's house where this British guy cooked the most awesome Thanksgiving dinner for his American girlfriend and her American friends.

And while this year, I'm thankful for many things - including my family, my grandfather, my friends in the US and all around the world, my new life in Boston, my health, the fact that I have a great job, my awesome new apartment...

I've decided that this will be my last Thanksgiving in the US until I have children. A four day weekend for a holiday I find that I don't care about too much anymore, is way too good to waste. Next year, I'm jumping on a plane to Europe or Latin America or Africa or wherever I feel is interesting (probably Sweden).

And someday, if I ever settle down and find a husband and have children, then no matter where I live in the world, I'm going to throw a HUGE Thanksgiving dinner for all my friends and relatives and make sure that it's a bright and happy and fun-filled day!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!


Average Girl said...

I am coming back to read this, but I didn't know whether you were into it or not, but i did pass on an award to you... cheers lovely!

myjoyproject said...

Psst, it's nice to see you posting again - I gave you an award too - guess it's your lucky day after all!

Marcela said...

Well thought of. I believe when have to feel free to make our own traditions when the ones in place don't make us happy.

Lifebeginsat30ty said...

Well I'm sorry to hear that your turkey day was so lackluster :( I was sitting over here looking at my family's facebook page wishing that I had paid the exorbitant plane fare to be there. But then later in the evening when my friends came over and the turkey was all done with all the sides, it was great :) I say it's now up to you to make thanksgiving a good day. If that involves jetting off somewhere and not celebrating it, then so be it! :D

P.Y.T. said...

you have had such a whirlwind of things going on in such a short time...I think you're being too hard on your expectations and Thanksgiving in general. Perhaps something underwhelming was just what you needed. Just pure, no frills family time.

I would be willing to bet that next year, once your much more settled, you will be totally stoked for Thanksgiving...who knows, maybe you'll even host in your fab new apartment!

Average Girl said...

Listen sweetie... if the holidays are not what you want them to be, make them the way you want them... take over the traditions of your grandmother and you force everyone to enjoy them, then open up your door and invite all your neighbours, your coworkers, your friends, your family and change it from bland to wonderful... you can do it! It's a commitment, I know, but try it! Cheer up darlin... my family is small and I am without kidlets, so I really get it!

Tracy xxoo

Sara Louise said...

Happy belated Thanksgiving to you! And I think long traveling on your long holiday weekend until your settled is an awesome idea! Make the holiday your own! :-) xo

jules said...

You've got something wonderful to look forward to next year!

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