Each year, it is the same thing. A normal weekday is actually a special occasion in my heart. People still go to work and school, traffic is still bad, and grocery stores are the same as any other day. It feels like my own little secret, but one I wish I could share with everyone. Thanksgiving is special to me, but here in Ireland it’s just another Thursday. Well, except at Electric and Cork Airport Hotel. But I’m homesick often enough that these holidays cannot pass without pulling at my heartstrings even more than usual.
Thanksgiving (and Christmas) remind me that if I want to have a family holiday meal, I need to fork over a couple thousand dollars and travel for at least 14 hours on two planes with two kids and not nearly enough Tylenol for my knees to get banged by the person in the seat in front of me. Of course, once I get there it is amazing and since I’m from the East Coast hopping up to New York City or Philly can be a day trip or maybe pop down to the Research Triangle for some good southern food and friend time. For me, American is a land of possibility…possibility to see the people I love. And in this year of loss and strife, that’s sometimes the only balm needed to be the good we want to see in the world.
I’ve not celebrated a Thanksgiving with my mother or in-laws since before we moved to Ireland (over eight years ago). I still cherish Thanksgiving 2006 when my mother and father flew to California to visit us and celebrate the holiday weekend. Mom and my new husband cooked a full Thanksgiving dinner in our tiny kitchen then we took a drive through the forest where Return of the Jedi was filmed. It was the last holiday before my mom’s heart failure starting taking over her activity level. That autumn was a difficult time as we adapted to the diagnosis, but Thanksgiving itself was an oasis of comfort amidst it all. It is in the simple sharing of a meal that solace can be found. Other Thanksgivings in California, we celebrated with friends who welcomed us with open arms. In that normality, homesickness can be forgotten.
Two years ago, I was on the TV being interviewed about what it’s like and the holiday in general, which was quite fun. We had a holiday lunch beforehand at Electric then went to a big dinner afterward with most of the Cork expat community. We sat with my friend Sara and her now-husband, which was fun in itself. Also that year, I wrote at a piece for the Irish Examiner about the holiday and what it’s like to celebrate so far from family. Spoiler alert: It’s difficult. And not just because a whole turkey (let alone an oven big enough to fit it) and pumpkin puree are hard to find.
We Americans love our turkeys. NO, really. There was a hotel designed after the turkey. It was called The Gobbler. I’m not kidding. I wrote a blog post about it two years ago. But you can’t serve a hotel lounge for dinner, so let’s move along to recipes and where to buy our authentic American ingredients… If you want to make my family’s sweet potato bake, here’s the recipe! And here are the Dijon Brussels sprouts I love so much. And a post rounding up all my favorite holiday recipes.
There are places in Ireland to buy pumpkin puree so don’t despair. Fallon & Byrne is a treasure trove for expats so check there for specific ingredients. American Food and More online shop has a huge selection and also supplies to brick-and-mortar businesses. American Food and More explains: “While American Food and More Store (www.americanfood.ie) is the #1 online shop in Ireland for American products you miss from home, we are working with a variety of quality Irish retailers to bring these products to your neighbourhood. Although none of the stockists carry everything available on www.americanfood.ie, we are all interested in providing the American products that YOU want, so please do not hesitate to ask.”
So, really this holiday is all about the people and the food. It is a heart-filled holiday that, to me, embodies welcoming others, breaking bread together, and being grateful for what the year (and life) offers each of us. And maybe some good old American football with commentators who know what they’re talking about. What are you thankful for this year?