When I heard the kids voices yesterday morning, it was 6:48. Like always. Our morning routine followed as every morning: get up and ready for the day; breakfast; snacks made and packed; a bit of piano practice; out the door at 8:00. It wasn’t until after my youngest and I dropped off the older two at school did my approach to this particular Thursday change.
“Mama,” asked my five-year-old, “ist heute Freitag?” Is today Friday?
“No, sweetheart,” I answered. “Not yet. It’s Thursday. Oh wait. It’s Thursday. Alida, it’s Thanksgiving! Happy Thanksgiving!”
Alida replied by scrunching up her face, her way of making it clear something was not adding up. “Aber Mama. Ssanksgiving war doch am Samstag!” But Mama. Ssanksgiving was on Saturday!
“Yeah, that’s when we celebrated Thanksgiving. But today is the actual holiday in the States. Grandma and Grandpa and all of your aunts and uncles and cousins will be celebrating together today.”
It still didn’t make sense. A major holiday (once upon a time for me) reduced (for my children) to just another Saturday get-together, never forgotten but always squeezed in among the other pre-Advent activities. Not only can my children with their German-forming tongues not properly say the word “Thanksgiving”, but it remains impossible for them to grasp the significance of this day for most Americans.
Alida moved on, chattering away about this and that. My thoughts, however, remained. Is it not crazy that Thanksgiving was so far removed from my reality that it didn’t even cross my mind until hours later? And the day to come was filled with a meeting, an appointment and plenty of errands to run. A Thursday like any other, except it’s Thanksgiving.
Melancholy took hold. Luckily because of my busy day, I had little time to really acknowledge it, but it was there, a little knot close to my heart reminding me how very far away I am. That knot sat close to the surface when I couldn’t hold back the tears as I lit my candle at lunch, telling the children I was thankful for each of them. My feeble attempt at making the holiday memorable for my children by allowing each to light a candle as they tell what they are thankful for turned awkward.
Last Saturday we did celebrate Thanksgiving with two chickens we called turkey and all the trimmings. We dish up a pretty mean Thanksgiving meal, my two American friends and I. Although the food is mostly strange for our children, we persevere in the knowledge that it is stuffing, baked corn, pumpkin pie and Grandma Lucy’s rolls that make up Thanksgiving. Each of us brings a bit of home to the table, hoping our children will recognize it. I am forever thankful for these two American / German couples plus kids who now form our Thanksgiving family.
Still Thursday, the day of, remains lonely. I move among people who cannot know that today is special. They don’t know that I am being left out, that in fact I should be with my family, gathered around the table. Of course, I always picture big laughs and lots of fun. Maybe it’s not. Maybe they’re wishing, especially the hipper, younger family members, that they were somewhere else instead of stuck there – again. But it doesn’t matter because they’re together doing that family thing of just being, surrounded by knowledge of where they have come from and where they belong.
Some years are easier. Sometimes I am able to forget that it’s Thanksgiving until late in the day when I can Skype in and say a quick hello before moving on to the next activity. But this year it’s hard. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t celebrated Thanksgiving with my family for the last fourteen years. It still makes me sad that I can’t be with them and that my husband, kids and I are missing from the memorable family photo. And what’s almost worse – no one has even mentioned that we’re missing (on Facebook for example). Perhaps I’m being petty, I can admit it, but it’s sort of like salt in the wound.
Today I am thinking of all you ex-pats who celebrate your holidays in a way that helps you remember where you come from, but which remain only an echo of what would make your heart sing.