Messages from Madrid: Thanksgiving abroad
No matter how hard anyone tries to deny it, being in a foreign country on Thanksgiving feels slightly wrong. I have never felt a strong connection toward Thanksgiving, and I’ve always looked too critically at the first Thanksgiving story to truly enjoy the history behind it, but I found myself missing the holiday when the season rolled around.
Perhaps it was the snapchats of the Friendsgiving I was missing while in Spain, the Christmas decorations put up far too early in the city’s Plaza Mayor or some innate patriotism that is embedded in every American, but I found myself searching for the most authentic and outrageously American Thanksgiving dinner possible in Madrid.
As soon as my friends and I walked into the restaurant we chose, I thought we had nailed it. Not only could I detect the distinct smell of turkey and gravy, but, to my surprise, I could hear American accents among Spanish words.
My friends and I sat closely at the table, knocking elbows as we eagerly cut into the perfect pieces of turkey and delectable vegetables, and we could almost fool ourselves into thinking it was just like Thanksgiving at home. Sure, the turkey tasted slightly different, the vegetables were cooked differently and the sweet potato casserole had a bright pink marshmallow on top instead of a white one, but it was delicious.
While eating it I realized what was happening. The restaurant had taken our American traditions and altered them to add a Spanish flair. Despite having set out for the most American Thanksgiving possible, I couldn’t help but begin to understand the lesson they were teaching me.
It wasn’t in the United States and the food wasn’t perfectly American, but that’s what made it so brilliant. Isn’t that what Thanksgiving is all about? Taking the old traditions, such as the sweet potatoes, and combining them with something new, like the pink marshmallows. It’s about taking what is already good and making it great. I saw this throughout the whole meal, from the appetizers that reminded me of tapas in the market, to the drink menu that listed sangria over wine.
Now, for me and my friends, Thanksgiving isn’t where you are — it’s who you’re with and what you make out of it. Thanksgiving in Spain taught me that we don’t have to look to the past to remember what Thanksgiving really is about, but we can create new traditions in the moment with new friends, different languages and plenty of gratitude for being able to understand one another.
Maybe these sentiments will not resonate with my friends and family from America, and hopefully they will discover it in their own time. But, even if it took me a few years, some pink marshmallows and Thanksgiving in another country to realize why Americans hold this holiday so close to their hearts, I am glad to be part of the tradition.