Thank You, Lord: 12,000 Miles From Thanksgiving

12000 Miles

By David Crim

How to give thanks without Butterball®, extended family, and the Dallas Cowboys.

I had to learn the hard way that there’s no one right way to stuff a turkey. Years ago, during my first Thanksgiving with my wife’s family, nothing was correct. There were foods missing from the table. And how they ate the food — scattered all over the house, eating off paper plates, their laps as their table — was not the same as my family. We ate on china plates around one large table. And then there was the never-miss, after-dinner tradition that was totally neglected by Cindy’s family: watching the Dallas Cowboys.

Fortunately, God kept my mouth shut and opened my mind. I learned there’s more than one way to celebrate Thanksgiving. Giving thanks to God is the main course; everything else is just hors d’oeuvres. I learned the joy of eating from paper plates with dozens of loving family members who filled the house with gladness. Cindy’s family broadened my perspective and taught me new ways to give thanks.

These would prove valuable lessons as Cindy and I moved to the Philippines, 12,000 miles from Thanksgiving. It never crossed our minds that Filipinos don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. Our first clue hit when we invited our Filipino friends to our house for Thanksgiving Day.

“What is it?” was the popular response. Cindy and I started having nightmares of sitting, just the two of us, around our dining room table, loaded with Turkey-day food, and absolutely no one with whom to share it. The nightmares quickly faded because our favorite foods weren’t available in the local market. No yams for the sweet potato casserole. No herb stuffing mix. Not one turkey! This dilemma conjured a new nightmare: eating pancit (noodles) and pandesal (salt bread), and watching the Southeast Asia Badminton Championships — all alone! We were in a swivet.

But after Cindy and I dismissed all mouth-watering thoughts of turkey and dressing, we began dreaming a new vision of Thanksgiving. We were undaunted in our determination to celebrate God’s goodness. So what if we ate tinola instead of turkey, or dim sum instead of dressing with gravy?

Then, two days before Thanksgiving, an American friend dropped by our house toting a plastic bag and wearing a huge grin. Inside the bag was a real Butterball turkey. If he had arrived a few days earlier, I’m sure we would have hooped and hollered like crazy Americans in a foreign land when something familiar, something like home, happens. But on this day, we simply thanked him, and decided it would go well with our pancit, tinola, and mangos.

More than 20 Filipino friends — our new family — came to our Thanksgiving feast. In true Filipino fashion, they did not come empty handed but brought their favorite foods to add to the cornucopia that was our table. Reminds me of a day in Plymouth long ago.

“This dilemma conjured a new nightmare: eating pancit (noodles) and pandesal (salt bread), and watching the Southeast Asia Badminton Championships — all alone! We were in a swivet.”

A STRANGER IN A FOREIGN LAND: 

2 Tips for Thriving (not just surviving)

  1. SEEK NEW FRIENDS from among your new culture. Avoid the temptation of only looking for fellow expats with whom to build relationships.
  2. BE AN EXPLORER. Challenge your taste buds. Learn local words. Discover new holidays. Adapt present resources to your own traditions.

What can you do to befriend someone from a different culture in your own city?

The aroma of burning leaves evokes cherished memories for David Crim. In 1966, he spent some of Thanksgiving Day raking leaves with his grandfather and burning them in large piles. His grandfather died the following spring.

This article originally appeared in the November, 2012 issue of More Living Magazine.

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