Of all the distinctively American holidays, the one I deem most worthy of "bringing with me" when I leave the country is Thanksgiving. This year, we decided to invite 5 of our coworkers and their spouses and children (13 guests) over for a Thanksgiving meal on the Saturday before the holiday, since work this Thursday wouldn't give me the time I needed to cook.
This is what I consider the #1 rule of celebrating Thanksgiving abroad: Don't get your heart set on a turkey. In my experience, turkeys can be hard to find, extremely expensive, and, besides that, you may not have an oven. Don't stress. Thanksgiving doesn't require a turkey, it just requires food.
Also, do not be dismayed if you can't find Thankgiving-themed decorations or even craft stores to buy supplies for making your own decorations anywhere. Remember, the food is more important that decor, especially for this holiday. I did make an effort with what we had, I wrote "Happy Thanksgiving!" and "Lord, we thank you." on signs in Chinese and taped them to the wall. So, basically our house was less decorated than the average dorm room, but remember, I'm of the theory that the food is what matters.
Angel was in charge of cleaning and setting up the room and running (hey, literally running since we don't drive, get it?) to Walmart several times for last minute-ingredients. Side note: "Milk Beverage is not the same thing as 100% Milk. Milk Beverage tastes weirdly like very sweet kool-aid and I wouldn't recommend adding it to mashed potatoes.) I made the food and made little food labels for the dishes, too. I've always scorned fancy food labels, because, why do we need to be told that mashed potatoes are mashed potatoes? And I'm right--we, those who have grown up eating mashed potatoes our whole lives, don't need to be told that, but people eating mashed potatoes for the first time don't know what they're eating until they're told. Nearly everything we served was a completely new dish for our guests, so I made labels.
It's always fun to me to see how others respond to trying out some very typical American food for the first time ever. At this particular meal, the deviled eggs were universally disliked (except by Angel, who ate about 10 of them). The mashed potatoes and fruit salad and rolls were huge hits (the rolls were normal dinner rolls I bought from the Walmart bakery, but I think many of our guests hadn't had them before). One gentleman got himself a solid 3 servings of chili, which I consider a vote of approval. The baked beans were pretty well liked as well, they ate nearly all we had. Even if the cheesy buffalo chicken dip wasn't the favorite of our guests, it was a solid favorite with Angel and I, and was the one thing that there were no leftovers of by the end of the evening...because between the two of us, we finished every last amazing bite.
We loved hosting our first Thanksgiving here. I know it looks very small, but considering the fact that I'm working with a two-burner stove, no oven, and a mini-fridge, I think it was the perfect size. I'm so thankful that after less than 3 months of working at our school, we've already built friendships with these coworkers who have welcomed us into their world so heartily. Yesterday, conversations in this home were taking place in a heavy mix of Chinese and English. Several of our guests spoke no English at all--but we are so thankful that we are able to communicate with them to invite them over and hopefully make them feel welcomed and give them a taste of what American Thanksgiving is about--food, hospitality, and praising God for all things.
Also, you can't out-give our friends, so don't even try. You will lose any and all gift wars. Hostess gifts are taken very seriously in China, and every guest showed up bearing food for us at the dinner. We ended up with a total of: 20 lbs. of mandarin oranges, 3 dragonfruits, 9 apples, a huge bag of grapes, a bag of dates. a box of tea, 6 bottled drinks, and a bottle of wine. And we are only two people! I now feel the need to have a fruit party and invite people over to help me eat lots of fruit! Who's in?