Thanksgiving Day, in my opinion, is what a holiday is supposed to be – a day for family, food, and warmth. On this day there is no stress to buy gifts (at least for 24 hours), contend with religious factions, or quantify its purpose – there is no to way to quantify thankfulness. It is my favorite holiday, and each year over the past decade it has looked very different.
It’s Thanksgiving Day in 2009 in Hilton Head, South Carolina. I open the front door to the savory smell of turkey and the sound of Billy Joel singing about Vienna. My mom’s singsong “Helloo-ooo!” reaches me before her embrace does. My mother is the perfect Southern hostess. Even though it’s only five of us – my mom, my stepdad, my two siblings, and me – my mother has the house set up as if Princess Diana had risen from the grave and was coming to dinner. She covers the bookshelves in warm autumn garland with flecks of gold, and the living room glows with lowly lit lamps that reflect off the crystal she sets out for special occasions. She loves pretty things. A few hours later Holly and Robert arrive, and we feast on turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, sweet potato soufflé, mac n’ cheese, pumpkin pie, and rum cake. It’s the only time we’ve been together this year, and we catch each other up through stories. We digest while we laugh, and since the Gamecocks aren’t playing, no one pays any mind to the TV. My little family doesn’t have many traditions, but the feeling of being an essential and loved part of the whole is always there.
It’s Thanksgiving Day in Chicago in 2014, and affording multiple flights back home for the holidays is not an option. A couple years ago “Friendsgiving” was introduced to my vocabulary, and this time I am responsible for providing the warm setting my mother always created. Not only that, but my mom and her husband are flying up for it, and my partner’s family and several of our friends are coming as well. There are 16 of us in total, and I most certainly do not have the same composure my graceful mother has always had. After ten hours of racing between the oven and four borrowed crockpots, then to the living room to make some paltry decorations from burlap and plastic golden foliage, it is done. We are all packed into the two bedroom apartment, some on chairs and some on the floor, but everyone is smiling and no one has been poisoned by my food. The weather is colder and the people are different, but the feeling of home is the same.
It’s Thanksgiving Day in Berlin in 2017. There is no family, no friends from the US, and there is no holiday. Even though our sessions today are delightfully challenging, there is a heaviness in the Americans as we feel an important day slipping away without consequence. Nothing makes you feel as foreign as that. Thursday quickly passes to Friday. It’s only 9AM, but the air is tense with preparations for solo presentations. On one side of the room seven black panels create a series of corridors for one presentation, in another corner candles are lit and a fake mustache is applied for a cabaret-style piece. The bathroom is filled with students applying make-up and making costume adjustments, and one student stands with his back to the room, tinkering with a prop that will be a big reveal in his presentation. An hour and a half later, we have bared our artistic souls to one another, and are cleaning up a particularly messy soul bearing that resulted in a food fight. Then we move on to devising rehearsal and our group presentations. At the end of the day we are physically and emotionally exhausted, but it’s important for us to come together for a group checkout before leaving, where everyone says how they’re feeling/what their state of being is:
“I sort of hate you guys, but that sort of makes me love you more.”
The circumstances are vastly different, and the feeling is the same.
Then of course we celebrated – thanks to our fellow Irish Lispian Klancy for hosting!
Thanksgiving was just on Saturday this year.
Here’s to wishing everyone a happy beginning to the winter holiday season.