As an American, Thanksgiving has long been one of my favorite holidays and as an expat it still is. I am now an American living in Australia, about as far away from home as I can get. It is a very odd feeling. Despite living here for over a year, this is actually my first Thanksgiving as an expat. Last year I was privileged to be able to celebrate with my mom back home, but this year I simply cannot get back. So for the first time in my life I am faced with a strange situation: what to do on a holiday that does not exist where I am?
Like many, growing older meant losing the togetherness of the holiday, but as an American there was always something left of the spirit because I knew that the people around me were celebrating even if I could not. In Australia, this is no longer the case. There are some obvious observations to make about how this feels. I miss my family, of course, even though it has been years since we all sat down together. In addition there is the loss of the festiveness that comes from knowing that everyone around you is celebrating, too. Today is not a day off in Australia; my neighbors have no idea what Thanksgiving is; and finding a can of cranberry sauce or a pumpkin pie is nigh impossible. It almost feels like Thanksgiving does not exist.
But just because it does not exist where I am does not mean that it cannot exist for me. I would not be unusual if I, like so many other expats, celebrated Thanksgiving in some way. One Wall Street Journal journalist who has lived as an expat called Thanksgiving a “moveable feast.” “The holiday is so shareable,” he writes, “so perfectly cross-cultural, that anyone with a sense of gratitude for another year of life, or who is simply hungry, can celebrate.” To a certain extent, he is right. It is easy for me to share my family’s traditions and all the “fixings” of the feast with my Aussie friends and family. Perhaps I will just have to call mom and ask for her stuffing recipe and advice on how best to make the cranberry sauce (in the absence of the canned kind).
In a way, Thanksgiving abroad is more pure and effective than it is in America. The emphasis on thanks, rather than Black Friday consumerism or politics, is palpable. There are no distractions from feeling thankful because being thankful is all there is. Of course, the traditional feasting will have to be moved to the weekend because we are all working on Thursday, but I will be noting the actual day in my own special way by watching the Southern Hemisphere’s largest Lego Christmas tree be lit. There are some cool things about living abroad, I have to admit.
When Abraham Lincoln officially declared the holiday for the entire nation, he said, “I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving.” No matter where I am or what day it is, I can and will take part in thanksgiving. It is a heritage, a tradition, as well as a beneficial practice for the soul. As an expat, that meaning of Thanksgiving is even more apparent than it would be and for that I am truly thankful.
Op-Ed By Lydia Bradbury