Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday since I was very little. For me, it isn’t about the historical reasons for celebrating or the “Black Friday” aspect. It has always been the one day out of the year that my entire family would get together and have a nice dinner together, undistracted. It was the one day that I could see all my aunts, uncles and cousins at once. Being a part of a small family, it was a gathering of about 12 people at the most, and I always thought that it was wonderful. The food, of course, was also always delicious. Everything we make for Thanksgiving is only served that one day of the year, so it is always special to be able to have those holiday favorites.
Being in Chile through the holidays is difficult, mainly because my family isn’t there. I really would love a teleporting device to be able to give them even just a hug. It is also summer here, which is weird for me…listening to songs like Let it Snow, White Christmas, etc. is a little silly in shorts and a tank top in 100 F weather. To top it off, Chileans do not celebrate Thanksgiving, which is understandable, since it is an American holiday, but makes things a bit difficult.
While I am a huge proponent of full-immersion for expats in their new country’s culture, I think that keeping in some traditions from home is a great and necessary thing! It means, however, that sometimes you have to work much harder to ensure that those traditions happen.
Felipe and I decided together that Thanksgiving would be a great thing for us to do together (he actually brought it up first, so sweet!). I was excited at first, but also very concerned due to the complications that it brought. If it was just the two of us, it would be great, but at the same time it would be missing that family aspect that I love. If we held it on Thursday, no one else would be able to come really because they do not get the day off. Our apartment is also on the smallish side, so a huge gathering was out of the question no matter what. Then, there was the question of what to serve and if we could even find it.
At the end of all my worrying, we finally decided on a date, menu, and whom to invite. We celebrated last Saturday, the 23rd due to a busy schedule the weekend following Thanksgiving. We invited 7 people from Felipe’s family, who were all lucky enough to have their schedules open for the day, and it was just the right amount to fill our dining room table!
The menu came together surprisingly easy. The turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy were a given, but we were unsure at first of being able to find certain ingredients that are not as common in Chile. Sweet potatoes, for instance, are grown, but not as commonly sold because people here generally don’t know how to cook/use them. It was on the offchance that Felipe’s mom found them while perusing the veggie section of a random market. Another thing we searched a bit for was jellied cranberry sauce, but we were able to find the Great Value brand in Líder (Wal-Mart in Chile). Thank God for imports and globalization!
Cooking everything was the worst. Don’t get me wrong, I love cooking, but it has been about 27-32 C (80-90 F), and we have no air conditioning. It is only amplified by the horrid pollution that is hanging around Santiago, making it feel even hotter than it already is. Cooking for multiple hours over two days with the stove/oven made our poor apartment feel like a sauna. They did well scheduling this holiday in the winter in the US.
With luck on my side, after two days of cooking, everything came together. The turkey, which I had never cooked one before, turned out beautiful and delicious! My other ‘strange’ dishes, such as sweet potatoes with marshmallows, ambrosia salad (whipped cream with coconut, fruits, and marshmallows), and tortilla chip-chorizo stuffing were extremely well received by my somewhat doubtful in-laws, which made me happy! In the end, everyone was stuffed to the brim with food, and I accidentally made way too much food, resulting in having Thanksgiving leftovers for the rest of this week.
It was a great day, and one to be remembered…my first Thanksgiving on my own, cooking everything myself (with assistance from Felipe of course)! I got to introduce my Chilean family to some new dishes, everything tasted delicious (just like my grandma would make!), and I got to celebrate my favorite holiday. For next year, I think I may modify it a bit…have a light, cool meal for Thanksgiving and the big dinner sometime in the winter. Cooking that much food in the summer is a little crazy, I’ve decided. I am so glad and thankful, however, that we were able to make such a special day.