Thanksgiving Abroad

I’ve only celebrated four Thanksgivings abroad—three in Suriname, and one in the Republic of Georgia. Most have been in the United States, where we travel cross-country on crowded flights to visit family, squabble, cook for days, and eat until we’re semi-catatonic.

In my immediate family, when we were young, we were always reminded that the Pilgrims eventually slaughtered their Native American friends, just as all those poor turkeys were being slaughtered across the country. Fun stuff when you’re ten. But eventually my family stopped arguing about Native Americans and began eating meat. The few holdouts (me) were accommodated with an ever-rotating version of vegetarian Turkey. Thanksgiving became about visiting and appreciating family. Celebrating gratitude, not lingering anger. And drinking lots of wine.

Thanksgiving cannonballs, Suriname

Celebrating abroad is not so different, just minus the traditional family. In Suriname, the American Ambassador threw us Peace Corps volunteers a Thanksgiving pool party each year. We celebrated the old-fashioned way—turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and cannonballs into the pool. Like in the US, it was a time to offer thanks for our two-years together, not to mention a free meal.

Last year, as a Peace Corps Response volunteer in Georgia, I celebrated, as one should, in excess—attending three Thanksgiving dinners. The first was a few weeks early since the volunteers were gathering for a training. Everyone contributed to the food and various preparation tasks, and the staff brought wine. The Ambassador came and over a hundred of us sat down together—at a very long table—then moved outside to mingle around a bonfire.

On the actual Thanksgiving weekend, I traveled to Borjomi, a small mountain town, where a friend threw a Thanksgiving dinner for her Georgian co-workers, combining traditional American Thanksgiving fare with a touch of Ukrainian from her own heritage. Her host-family added Georgian dishes and brought out their homemade wine for hours of toasting our gratitude.

Thanksgiving in Borjomi, Georgia

The following night, we celebrated again, this time with a blend of Peace Corps volunteers, American teachers, and Georgians. Our host was Chinese-American and added a specialty from his own family’s Thanksgiving dinner—delicious fried rice. The Georgians, of course, brought homemade wine.

Thanksgiving in Georgia was a time to feel nostalgic for my family and home, but also reminded me of the diversity of America, from the Native Americans, to the Pilgrims fleeing England, to every immigrant that’s arrived since. To all the world traditions we’ve blended into our celebrations.

I think it’s what Americans should remember this year, if only for one day. Not lingering anger over history. Not the divisive, angry politics currently polarizing the U.S. Because while none of us celebrate it quite the same way, we can all be grateful, both here and abroad, for a few shared desires—peace, a good harvest, and friendship.

But not football. Football is boring.

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