No Turkey In China

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. It just seems to magically appear each year and doesn’t have all of the hustle and bustle swirling around it like Christmas always did for my family. It’s almost like the day just creeped up on everyone’s calendars and starts off the holiday season with a feast centered around family and giving thanks for the good things in life.

This year was my first Thanksgiving away from home. I have been silently dreading the holiday season, almost wishing the next three months would just erase and that February would come quickly. It’s weird here in China because all the things that I associate with the “holidays” are not here. No autumn smells. No Christmas lights. No pumpkin pie or turkey on the menu. No scarecrows, jack-o-lanterns or fake leaf decor adorning the apartment complexes that Hangzhou natives live in.

Yet Thanksgiving this year was probably one of the best I have ever had.

Thanksgiving week I told my students about the “First Thanksgiving” and had them read a copy of Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation. Explaining Pilgrims and Indians and old English was fun. It was a good reminder to me just why my country takes days off to celebrate Thanksgiving. That Abraham Lincoln established the holiday in a time of Civil War. I think I became a little more sentimental for the meaning of Thanksgiving as I told and re-told my students the story of the Mayflower.

Thanksgiving evening, several of the foreign teachers (not all Americans) went to a nice Chinese restaurant. Several hotels and fancy restaurants in the area were advertising for “western Thanksgiving feasts” but they were really, really, expensive. We decided instead of having Western food that would not be as good as at home, we would have great Chinese food.

Our feast consisted of three kinds of tofu, pumpkin pieces cooked in egg yolk, shrimp served live in a bowl of alcohol, a whole chicken (head and feet included), fried potatoes, green peppers, mushrooms and sugar cane for dessert. Yum. It was no grandma’s cooking but it was a super delicious way to spend Thanksgiving.

We went around the table and talked about what we were thankful for: life, health, living in China, having a job in unstable times abroad…but what really struck me was that there we were, a Canadian, Frenchman, Brazilian and four Americans celebrating an American holiday in China. That citizens of every country have so much to be thankful for and can celebrate together, even if the holiday wasn’t a part of their upbringing.

My younger sister arrives next week to spend three weeks with me over Flagler’s Christmas break. I don’t get any days off, but I am anticipating the two of us spreading holiday cheer throughout the Chinese countryside. I may not be home for the holidays, but I am beginning to debate the definition of “home.”

Just pass the chicken head and tell me what you are thankful for.

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