Gratitude and Thanksgiving Abroad Memories
In case you didn’t know, it’s Thanksgiving in Canada this weekend.
To me, a proud Canadian, Thanksgiving isn’t just about the turkey, the stuffing with the crispy bits on the edges, or the cranberry sauce, or the apple pie with ice… or the pumpkin pie. To me, Thanksgiving is so much more.
Thanksgiving is by far my favourite holiday, and has been for the past 10 years. I’ve always loved this ‘holiday’, for a few reasons; turkey dinner with all the fixin’s? Yes, please! I love any excuse to get together and cook up a feast (heck, I do love eating), I loved getting together with my extended family back home for a big meal. But the reason that grew on me more and more, was the fact that Hallmark never capitalised on this holiday. This was the one time that there was no pressure or expectation of gifts or material things – the entire focus is and always has been on spending time with loved ones, to share a meal. To me, that’s awesome and what holidays should be about.
My friends and family at home are enjoying the cool, crisp air, the traces of summer that linger, and my favourite, the autumn leaves which make the trees look like they’re on fire against a clear blue sky. Living in New Zealand, we’re on the brink of summer. Daylight savings sprung our clocks ahead last weekend, making the evenings a bit lighters again and the breeze seems to be shifting to warm up ever so slightly. I wholeheartedly love summer, and although a tiny part of me gets a wee bit jealous missing out on Canadian Autumn, I am fully content enjoying spring.
I’ve been home with my family for 2 of the past 10 Thanksgivings. I am especially grateful for those opportunities to be home with my Ma & Pa, and I know they miss me when I’m not there but some of my favourite memories have been made having ‘untraditional’ turkey dinners.
For example, at University, it was unrealistic for me go home for a three day weekend (I certainly did not have the budget or the time to get to the airport, let alone fly from Toronto to Halifax), so I classed myself as an orphan. Some loving Ontario-family would always take me in for Thanksgiving and Easter.
More and more of my group of friends at Brock were staying for the shorter holidays. In 2006, I organised an orphan potluck dinner for Easter. There were probably about 20 or so of us, we pooled together furniture from all of our houses so that there were enough seats for us to have a big ol’ meal together. And so the “Brock Family” tradition was born. Each year, anyone who wasn’t gone home to be with their family would get together, and we’d all try to recreate our favourite dishes, and share with everyone.
To this day, years later, my group of friends still refer to each other as the “Brock Family”.
I moved to New Zealand in 2009 to study, and there were 5 other Canadians in my class of 23 at Teachers College in Dunedin. Since we were such a small group and spent all day every day together, we quickly became quick a tight knit group. I flatted with 2 of the Canadian girls, so we decided to host a Thanksgiving dinner and show the Kiwis what it was all about. We bought 3 chickens (because turkey is stupid-expensive in New Zealand, and were feeding 15 people), spent pretty much the whole day in the kitchen and cooked up all of our favourites.
This was also a necessary cultural lesson for our kiwi mates, especially in pie. As you may know, depending on where you live, the standard of pie differs from hemisphere to hemisphere. In Canada, when you hear pie, you’d generally associate its filling with fruit – apple, blueberry, etc etc.
But in New Zealand (and Australia) pies are a savoury treat, and the most popular filling is usually mince (ground beef), mince & cheese, steak, steak and cheese etc. So finding a ‘pie plate’ is also a bit of a challenge as well. We made due with a quiche dish instead, and devoured that ‘taste of home’.
But before we ate, we had everyone go around and share something that they were thankful for. This was one of my favourite memories of Dunedin, as these people who were strangers 9 months before, had literally become my family. They were the people I spent my days with, who I went on adventures with, laughed with and who I turned to when I was homesick (or hungover at that point). Being so far away from your blood relatives, you quickly learn to find your people, and that ‘family’ is what you make of it.
The following year, I’d moved up north to Kaitaia. I was flatting with two friends, and had just started dating Thom not too long before Thanksgiving. I insisted on cooking us a proper Kiwi-style Canadian Thanksgiving (with Chicken instead of Turkey, and no fruit pies this time). Again, I insisted each of us share the things we were thankful for before eating.
Thom’s answer still sticks out in my memory. “I’m grateful for alcohol, because without it, I probably wouldn’t have talked to Kate.” (Thom’s a wee bit shy, if you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting my man). After that, the Kiwi-Thanksgiving traditions kind of trickled off. It usually fell at a busy time during school, and became low on my priority list.
2013 and 2008 have been the only Thanksgivings I’ve spent with my parents in the past 10 years. Signs of being a ‘grown up’? I think so. Last year my little sister couldn’t come home, but we showed her the same love.
In 2008 I was stoked to be home for the first time in 4 years, since leaving for university. I was also getting ready to head off to New Zealand. Last year, Thom was home with me and got to experience a real true and proper Thanksgiving, complete with Turkey. And the madness that goes along with working at a Farmer’s Market!
This year, Thanksgiving was a bit different for me. I love to entertain, to bring people together to enjoy food. I wasn’t into a big roast dinner though. School starts tomorrow, and I’m going back to full time teaching for the first time in over a year and half. Instead of making a big thing of Thanksgiving, I invited Thom’s mum and Stormie down for an untraditional Thanksgiving Pot luck dinner.
We had a beautiful spread – quiche, kale salad, pizza, roast vege salad, and roasted potatoes. It ended up being completely vegetarian, but it was perfect. I told my favourite Thanksgiving stories. We caught up. I was with my family. I didn’t make them share things they were thankful for, but this is more common in our conversations now.
I have so much to be grateful and thankful for. I’m blessed with so many amazing people in my life, who I consider my family as much as friends. I am grateful that I get to teach an awesome bunch of 10 & 11 year olds, and that I have such an amazing network of women with Luscious Life Design, who inspire me to do more and be more, and to design a life that I love. I’m grateful to live in such an amazing part of this beautiful country (heck I’m grateful to live in New Zealand!) and I’m ever so grateful for all the adventures that make up the tapestry of my life.
So here’s to Thanksgiving. To gathering your family and friends near, or sharing with someone new. To not having it all together, but together having it all. To doing what you love, and loving what you do. Here’s to the change in season and the big beautiful things that are yet to come.
I hope you’re spending this weekend with your family – whether they’re you’re blood, or you’ve adopted them as your own. Spend time with those you love, and show them the love. And enjoy some extra turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce for me please!