Several of my German friends have asked in the recent week if it’s hard for me to be away from the United States during Thanksgiving. The answer is yes…and no. I am unexpectedly thankful today for the opportunity to experience the holiday from a different vantage point.
While I no doubt miss gathering with my extended family and close friends in the States, spending this American holiday in Germany has enabled me to embrace it’s spirit in new ways.
Given “Thanksgiving” is not observed here – marking the day requires a commitment which makes the holiday extra festive and spirited for those who choose to participate. I have watched with wonder as certain American friends in Berlin approach the day like a scavenger hunt. Where does one get a proper turkey…and will said turkey fit in my European-sized oven? Can I buy canned pumpkin at the grocery store? Do marshmallows exist here for Aunt Marta’s famous sweet potato concoction? Can I call the 1-800 Butterball line for help from a German phone?
One friend has been up for 3 days carefully and lovingly cooking a feast for dozens of German friends that will replicate her family’s meal back home in Wisconsin. Tonight – a mishmash of expats are gathering at the home of another friend from Los Angeles, where each of us will bring our favorite Thanksgiving dish from “home” to the table. On Saturday, our host is screening NFL football from the previous day for post-turkey viewing.
Many of the gatherers are families with a mixed German and American heritage, but others are Germans who themselves have embraced the tradition or expats and travelers from other countries who are eager to share in the experience. I asked one German friend how his family came to adopt the American holiday, and he explained “once I learned that there was a holiday devoted simply to giving thanks, I thought – what could be better than that?” Food for thought.
I often think about this expat chapter of my life and feel slightly overwhelmed by the challenges and the “differences” big and small that I confront during the course of the day. But every so often it hits me, that maybe the gift of this time is the opportunity to reflect on what “home” truly means..because these traits will travel with me. In re-creating special side dishes and sports viewings, each of us is trying to share a piece of ourselves and show gratitude in our new “home.”
From keeping alive the legacy of those no longer with us on Earth, to celebrating the spirit and traditions of those that are miles away but close in heart, to welcoming new people into our lives that become family by our own choosing, to counting our blessings and finding ways to give back to the community in which we live — these are the lessons of my Berlin Thanksgiving.