It's that time of the year again—Thanksgiving—a tradition rooted in English customs dating from the Protestant Reformation and associated with harvest festival. These days, it’s primarily celebrated as a secular holiday. While Thanksgiving is one of the major holidays of the year in the United States, it is not a custom in South Africa. I’m celebrating my eleventh Thanksgiving in America this year. Despite the fact that my husband and I relocate often and have lived in four different states since our expatriation in 2001, we’ve always had the privilege of sharing the momentous meal with good friends—not one year has passed without receiving an invitation to someone’s home, and this year is no exception.
My life has been overrun by changes these past ten years, some good and some bad—that being so, this year I’m giving special thanks to a wonderful tradition and American hospitality: Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!
Below is an excerpt from my memoir—Out of Sync—of my first Thanksgiving in America in 2001.
The American people approached the first Thanksgiving after September, 11th with boldness, their travel plans defying the possibility that the symbolic time might expose the nation to further catastrophe. Davia surprised us with a dinner invitation, a kindness that would become a tradition during our time in San Francisco.
“Thank goodness for the break,” said Bruce. Due to the work pressure of the launch, staff had been working shifts to preserve their energy and sanity, and no doubt the goodwill of their spouses. “All because of an impossible client and a demanding agency seeking perfection,” he complained.
Brimming with gratitude too, we joined the exodus across the Golden Gate Bridge in the pouring rain for a potluck at the houseboat community in Waldo Point Harbor: privately owned floating homes that were connected to normal utilities and services, usually favored by free-spirited, artistic people. It took us a while to find Davia’s place, walking on docks that swayed unsteadily in the foul weather. Eager to realign our worlds across the chasm of our disparate circumstances, Bruce and I relaxed into the cozy atmosphere, sipping wine, warming ourselves in front of the gas fire, and listening to people’s accounts of a particularly poignant year. As we tucked into the turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry salad, pumpkin pie, and hot cider, we proudly compared it to our own Christmas tradition of roast beef and potatoes, rice with onion gravy, cinnamon-sugar pumpkin, and green salad, topped off with steamed pudding and custard, as well as homebrewed ginger beer.
Moments like those, when Bruce and I connected in the context of a shared past, made me see our foreign experience as an exciting challenge, because it felt like we were in it together, and then I would be encouraged to suppress the sense of loss that was shadowing me.