As I’ve said before about Living Abroad, I find that my holiday convictions are especially strong when I’m far away from home. This year has proved to be not much different from the last. I’ve planned with fellow Americans weeks in advance, scoured super marches for items that could be feastworthy, and even requested a care package from home- which turned out to be a fully stocked surprise. Moms are the best:It’s amazing how at times like these, the smallest things bring me joy. When I discovered Ritz crackers at Carrefour, I could barely contain my excitement, or avoid the awkward isle stares of, “C’est qui- this strange cracker enthused fille?” But I didn’t care. I was one step closer to creating a real green bean casserole. When I finally baked the pumpkin bread yesterday, I was surprised by how a simple taste or smell could instantly transport me home. And by how much happiness the delightful taste of cinnamon, nutmeg, and pumpkin could provide. This time of year Americans are inundated with pumpkin flavor and scents- pumpkin candles, lattes, breads, pies…I guess even commercial traditions work their way into your psyche. Because having pumpkin flavors and scents brought me far too much joy. I was happy to share with my student as we discussed thanksgiving traditions, and how the holiday has changed over time. And I was happy to come home to an apartment filled with the aroma of fresh-baked goods and spiced pumpkin. Oh the simple pleasures. Continue reading
It’s funny how living abroad makes you hold on to things from home more than you usually would. I’ve visited, backpacked, studied and stayed with friends abroad, but living in another country has created a shift in my mentality especially as my life becomes increasingly intertwined with something that was once so foreign.
More often than not, when travelling I would let go of my “americansims”, try to quiet down, blend in, learn a little language, taste the local foods, and do as the locals. When Bush was president, and I was backpacking through Europe, I didn’t dare utter that I was Texan. I almost told people I was Canadian in an effort to avoid the Bush shame. But when you live in a place and your idea of home starts to shift, you find pieces of your identity, pockets of your home and covet it like an irrational gollum creature.
“Damn right I’m from Texas!”
“Of course we’re celebrating Halloween…and Thanksgiving…and Christmas, and Valentines- ALL the celebratory American occasions!!!”
“What do you mean they don’t have triple sec? What kind of godforsaken land is this?!”
“I finally found black beans!! They actually exist!! Don’t touch! My precious….”
…You don’t want to imagine the greedy hoarding that would take place if I found refried beans. Continue reading
I cant believe it’s here. That time of madness where you eat way too much, drink (maybe not enough), question the sanity of the people around you, laugh abundantly, and by the first day of the new year wonder, where did all that time go?
Halloween came and went and before I knew it, so did Thanksgiving. This past Saturday marked the start of the Noel Marche and santas now adorn marche corners and Christmas trees decorate every street. Being that this is the first time I’m out of the country during ‘holiday season’, instead of doing like the French, I’ve apparently made extra efforts to hold on to my holiday traditions. I even yelled at my Dad and told him I was ‘offended’ after learning that they almost had a Chinese take out Thanksgiving. Why would they do such a thing when there are perfectly good cranberries and canned pumpkins waiting to be feasted on?!
After learning that my students hadn’t even heard about Thanksgiving, I promptly instructed them to do like the preschoolers and make a hand turkey. Of course, we delved deeper into things that they are thankful for (making extra emphasis on the “th” that is oh so difficult for frenchies), but really they seemed more interested in the hand turkey. Oh highschoolers. Computers, sports, video games, friends and good food seemed to be the top contenders. I did however, have a few interesting and thoughtful “I am thankful for” statements, mothers, family, teachers being amongst them, but my personal favorite was “I am thankful for american assistants”. True, I had written down that I’m thankful for French students (because without them where would I be?), but I’ll take what I can get!
I attempted to delve into the controversies of Thanksgiving and discuss the perspective of Native Americans, but being that they were confused about “what is a Pilgrim” and “why do you play football on this day” and “why do you have a Friday that is black”, it proved to be a bit difficult. And trying to translate the food into French was a feat in and of itself. Nonetheless trying to create a Thanksgiving feast in France.
But my fellow Americans and I rallied together, found a big assed supermarche and bought way too much. It’s beginning to look a lot like Thanksgiving.
We cooked all morning, improvising with a lack of cooking materials and utensils. We even reconstituted dried cranberries with rum and water. Amazingly enough after some boiling and cinnamon seasoning they turned out quite well. Ilka, Diego and our newest Brittish addition, Lise-Marie all joined for the feast and were quite surprised with the spread. We toasted with things of thanks and lots of eye contact (according to the French it’s seven years bad sex if you cheers without it). Afterwards, the fattened Americans plopped on the air mattress, rolling around like full bellied sea lions, while the people who know how to feast without stuffing themselves, started cleaning. At least they got an authentic idea of what happens. We consume. This is the time of consumption.
At one point one of the non-American assistants asked us, “How is this different than Christmas?” We all looked at each other and at first said, “It’s not.” But after awhile I stopped to say that generally Thanksgiving has a greater emphasis on family time. Sure you have the football, the food, and the parade, but for me it was always about getting together with the family and taking a bit of time to stop and appreciate. Of course Christmas is also a time of family, but too often its emphasis gets buried under the presents. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about the over the top present tradition my family has somehow grown accustomed to, but I do feel like Americans especially can get lost this time of year.
I have the fondest memories of piling our presents on top of the car, as Dad drove 8 dangerous hours across icy roads to Lubbock, Texas, and feeling that sense of happiness (and relief) when we made it and Grandma was ecstatically greeting us at the door in her satin nightgown. To me, Christmas is the excitement of an inch of snow as it glitters under the street lamp at night, unwrapping the mystery ornament from last year’s swap, the bowl of velvetta mac and cheese that Gran Gran would make especially for us kids (even though she was an excellent cook), the half eaten cookies and letters from Santa that we eventually recognized as Mom’s handwriting, the hours of bickering over which tree to chop down, but the warm peace that came with finding the tree and celebrating with home made cookies and hot coco, the hay bale king of the mountain wars that Mom always tried to win, the forced but fun caroling, the endless laughter (and tests of sanity) that comes with being around family for 72+ hours straight, the games that usually ended in competitive arguments, and the smiles (and sometimes tears) that evolved from thoughtfulness.
It’s going to be strange not to be around this year. But as my mom said at least I’ve got a “Christmas ambassador” (Dad) coming my way.
Though many Christians might like to deny it, Christmas is linked to the pagan traditions surrounding the winter solstice. And ultimately, the common thread of the holidays at this time are tied to finding ways to bring light to the dark. So I guess as the madness descends, I’d like to detox once again and be thankful for all the wonderful memories I’ve had and for what I have now. I want to find ways to illuminate the dark.
But don’t worry. You’re still getting presents from France.