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So What Is This Thanksgiving?

I’m a couple of days late, I know it. I’ve been struggling with my own feelings around the day, and as I couldn’t get a grip on my own feelings, it felt impossible to try to write about them.

As the deadline of writing on Thursday was my own, I decided that the content was more important than the deadline. So, here I am, a couple of days late, but with hopefully a more cohesive message and story than I would have had, forcing it out on Thursday.

The thing is, I have really conflicted feelings about this holiday.

As a child, it was a long weekend off school, which is great in itself. It also was a weekend that usually brought our family together with my mother’s family on Thursday, for the traditional Thanksgiving dinner, and my father’s family on Saturday for an early family Christmas.

It was a weekend of fun and games (the well-prized Bingo of my father’s family Christmas), lots of special food, traditions, and family.

As school children, we were taught the story of the Pilgrims, who landed in Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts. Settlers who had struggled through the journey, and to find food when they landed. Then they had this wonderful dinner, together with the natives, who introduced them to the local food. So they had this magnificent feast together and gave thanks for all they had.

As a kid, I didn’t think a lot about giving thanks. At the family Thanksgiving, Great Aunt Myrtle (who loved the evangelists) would usually give an extensive blessing before we ate.

As I grew older, went to Northwestern, I was still close enough to come home to Indiana. After the first time my dad picked me up (trying to get in and out of Chicago during this peak travel time), I was usually given a car around this time, so I could make the trip myself. Trying to travel through the limited arteries through or around Chicago when at least 10 million other people were trying to do the same was an exercise in frustration. If I recall, the worst drive was 15,5 hours, for a trip that could take just under 3 hours.

But I still went home. It was unthinkable not to go home for Thanksgiving. One year, I took a friend home with me, as I couldn’t think of her alone in the dorm on this holiday that was all about family and traditions.

As my parents divorced and my father’s mother passed away, some of the traditions changed. We no longer had my father’s family Christmas on the Saturday. Also, as my maternal cousins started forming their own families, Thanksgiving on the farm in Miami County faded as way as well.

Instead, Thanksgiving grew in a new way. At times, my father’s new family, with his wife, her children, and their family. Or with my mother, her husband, and my sister (and her numerous dogs).

I also had a serious boyfriend, so sometimes the holiday became split to combine his family and his traditions. One year, we even decided that he would visit me in California where I was in grad school, and we took a skiing holiday to Tahoe. Skiing at Heavenly on Thanksgiving, with only a pumpkin pie and a bit of turkey made for a new way to celebrate.

Then I moved to Sweden….

Thanksgiving became a way to connect with home, as well as a way to share American culture with my new Swedish friends. Although it was never a holiday, as it is in the US, I would go to five or more grocery stores to find all the ingredients needed. One year, I had to cook down a pumpkin from scratch, as I couldn’t find canned pumpkin. Over several years, dear expat American friends would join.

After a short stint back in the US and a ”proper” Thanksgiving with family, it was back to Europe for fifteen years. Some Thanksgivings were a big deal, particularly if I could round up enough friends and family to host a real dinner. Some years, especially after Molly’s birth and benefiting from my international mothers’ groups, we had some wonderful pitch-ins, sharing different traditions and dishes. Other years, I did all the cooking and introduced Swedish and Norwegian friends and family to my own family’s recipes. We even had a work party one year around a Thanksgiving theme and I celebrated the launch of Nspir on Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving came to be very special to me during those years abroad. First of all, it was a connection (through food and traditions) to the family and friends who were so far away. Second, after almost losing my life twice around childbirth, I became a lot more grateful and thankful person, and enjoyed having a holiday to celebrate gratitude and thankfulness. Lastly, being an American abroad can be challenging, as there is so much the world can find to criticize about American policies and politics. Having an American tradition that seemed outside of that was something to enjoy.

Last year was our first year back in the US, after many years abroad. I was so excited about the thought of Thanksgiving with my family. But then came COVID, and then stayed COVID. Although my parents’ health has been good, they were in the risk group for worse impacts of infection. We didn’t want to risk them.

So we stayed home. But we opened our home to some fellow Swedish expats, and a dear friend who couldn’t travel home either, due to risk to her mother. We put on a wonderful feast, and had an obscene amount of leftovers, that unfortunately no one will eat but me.

Then we came around to this year, and what we should do. Although it had seemed so close, to be on the same side of the Atlantic, the reality is that best case, I am still a 10,5 hour drive from my family. A drive that seldom hits best case, because there are several sections of mountain passes that either are under construction, have been hit by a rock slide, or just another accident. One trip took 17 hours. Another 15,5 hours.

Flying, especially to meet my parents, still seems risky and I didn’t want to risk exposure to them.

So, while I still have an awful lot to be thankful for, we had a quiet and unconventional Thanksgiving. Rather than the turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie, we enjoyed poke bowls for lunch and lobster, corn on the cob, and apple crisp for dinner.

Trail markers on our afternoon hike

We also took a hike in the forest, and just had quiet time for introspection. It wasn’t a bad Thanksgiving, just different.

Curious about what would normally be on my family’s Thanksgiving table?


Stuffing (bread crumbs, celery, onion, herbs, and turkey broth)

Pumpkin pie (my Gram had the best recipe for this, no nutmeg)

Green beans (my Granny made the best ones)

Cole slaw

Cranberry salad (my Gram’s recipe, and I prefer without nuts)

Mashed potatoes and gravy

Sweet potato casserole

Corn pudding

Biscuits or corn bread

Do you celebrate Thanksgiving? If so, what are your traditional dishes? For example, macaroni and cheese is the most popular dish in South Carolina Thanksgiving traditions, but never made it to our table.

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