I have never been away from family and friends during the holidays, but this year is different because I am alone on the other side of the world. I wondered what the holidays would be like without my mom’s home cooking. Usually I wait for Thanksgiving all year because I know that that is the one time during the year where I can eat all of the foods I love, and my taste buds can do back hand springs in joy. I know it is the time where I will bond with my mom and sister in the kitchen as we play music and my mom mixes up all her ingredients into the stuffing, and my sister and I sing along as we rip up collard greens. But this year that did not happen. The holiday season has started off very different for me. Every year I eat turkey, ham with pineapples, baked mac and cheese, collards greens, stuffing, cranberry sauce, potato salad, string beans, sweet potato pie, and more often than not chocolate cake. I feast with my sister as we judge my mom’s cooking for the year. My sister will say, “Mmmuhhmm, this year is the best mac and cheese mom ever made. Oh my god the food is so good; I’m going to get another plate.” My brother and I usually agree because we all love mac and cheese so much, but it’s a dish that we mostly only eat during the holiday season. This year most of the foods I love were missing, my sister’s judgment of the mac and cheese was missing, my mother telling me to chop up the peppers was missing, and my brother’s insistence of only eating mac and cheese, ham, and sweet potato pie (never any vegetables) was missing, but what wasn’t missing was the joy that comes with thanksgiving and the thanks that makes the holiday meaningful.
During my time in Thailand I have gotten close to many people, one person is a guy named Jeff and his family. His parents just recently retired to Thailand after many years of traveling back and forth from Thailand to China. Although his dad is American they never really celebrate Thanksgiving because they never really lived in America as a family. One top of that, Jeff’s mom is Dutch so Thanksgiving is not a holiday on her list. But one day I asked Jeff if it would be alright to cook something for Thanksgiving at has house, and he asked his parents if they were doing anything and they said that this year they would celebrate (mainly because of me). I was thrilled to know that I was still going to have a Thanksgiving even though I was away from home. Jeff’s mom cooked mash potatoes from scratch and made a delicious colorful salad. Jeff and his brother, Steff took turns grilling meat.
There was chicken, ribs, and these huge burgers that I placed on one of the softest rolls I have ever eaten. I wanted to have at least a few foods I was used to, so early that day I asked Jeff to drive me to the market and we picked up the ingredients for cornbread and mac and cheese. I was nervous to cook for other people because I didn’t want to be the one who ruined the thanksgiving meal, especially since they probably wouldn’t have had Thanksgiving at all if it wasn’t for me. Usually at home I was never the one who cooked cornbread and mac and cheese, those were holiday foods, and during the holidays my mom was the chef and I was the assistant. I did what was told, I was never the one giving orders. But this year it all changed I became the master chef and two of my friends, Katy and Sam who were also invited, were my assistants. I did all the mixing and measuring and they passed me the butter when I asked for it, and told me my food would turn out great. Jeff even turned on some music as we all cooked. I bobbed my head to some old school funk as I mixed up my cornbread batter, and Jeff danced around a little as he flipped the meat at the grill. To everyone’s pleasure my food came out just the way I wanted it to. My mac and cheese had just the right amount of cheese and my cornbread had the perfect amount of sweetness. The pan of cornbread went fast and so did the first pan of mac and cheese.
After all the food was done and we sat around the table complementing everyone on their contribution. I told Jeff’s mom that sometimes at home we will all go around and say what we are thankful for before we dig in. Because of this she told everyone to say something that they were thankful for. She said family, someone else said the food, Katy said just being able to come to Thailand and study, Jeff said his life. When it got to me I said that I was thankful for the chance to come to Thailand because not many people in my family have had the opportunity to do something like this, and I was thankful to have met all of them because although I am away from my family they have made me feel like I am a part of theirs.
I have to admit that Thanksgiving wasn’t at all what I was used to, but that doesn’t mean that it was any less amazing. I sat around with friends eating, laughing, and feeling joy. I got up from the table feeling as though I ate way too much like usual, and this year I can honestly say that I am more thankful than ever. I am thankful that I have been experiencing life in a different way, reevaluating what I want for myself, making new friends and connections, learning about a different culture, and discovering that there are so many kind and welcoming people in the world. I may not have had my family around, but I still had love and smiles around because I met people who were willing to open up their home to me. I still had friends to talk to and after eating rice every day for the last three months, my taste buds were singing praises along with my tummy. I wondered what it would be like to spend the holidays alone this year, but then I realized I wasn’t spending them alone