Thursday, October 13, 2011

Canadian Thanksgiving in Africa

in which i manage to not talk about Namibia at all.

This Monday was Thanksgiving! Which is a holiday that we don’t really celebrate in Africa, or really anywhere outside of North America. However, Allison and I felt it was our duty to show our host country a special Canadian tradition. So we sent out a bunch of invites to everyone we knew for them to come over to our place for some home-cooked Thanksgiving turkey dinner. At least that was the theory, in face of the fact that 1) we don’t actually know that many people 2) we forgot to actually invite people 3) we don’t know where to get turkey here 4) we don’t have ovens at our apartments 5) we can’t cook.

It all ended up working out though. Allison’s mother kindly sent us idiot-proof recipes for stove-top stuffing and we bought gravy kits from the grocery store. Nando’s was the official supplier of chicken that night (chicken is like turkey but smaller and less gobbly right?), and I actually had some experience in doing ex-pat Canadian Thanksgiving a few years ago when my fiancé Rob and I threw one in the good old Weesperstraat kitchen in the Netherlands. We did actually manage to get out some invitations, and even though a lot of people couldn’t make it on such short notice, we did have pleasure of having Dean, Joy, her husband Christopher, Alex, and his wife Linda…who all happened to be British. Lest somebody crack the joke about ironically spending Thanksgiving with the very people from whom the Pilgrims had fled, let me remind you that we were celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving, not American Thanksgiving (which is next month).

This begs the question of what Canadian Thanksgiving celebrates, which is what our guests asked me when they arrived: “Gloria, what on earth is Canadian Thanksgiving? Did you and Allison make this up?” As their cultural representatives, I explained that it’s a very special day when we celebrate the discovery of poutine by Celine Dion and Neil Young. This was an obvious lie. After a quick check on Wikipedia, I amended my explanation: it has something to do with explorer Martin Frobisher not dying while exploring the Northwest Passage and celebrating not dying when he returned home to Newfoundland. And as much as people want to complain about Thanksgiving being about anti-vegetarian, anti-Aboriginal colonialist oppression, again, I point out that this is Canadian Thanksgiving, and not dying is a good reason to celebrate as any. At any rate, the dinner menu ends up being the same as American Thanksgiving.


The next question my British guests had were about what traditions were involved with Canadian Thanksgiving. “Turkey,” I answered, “except we don’t have turkey.” What else, they wanted to know. I started talking about mooncakes and playing tug-of-war, then I realized that I was getting mixed up with Chuseok, the Korean harvest festival from last month.

See, the truth is as Korean-Canadians, my family never really did the Thanksgiving dinner thing. When I was a small child, I was living in small town America, so at school we prepared for American Thanksgiving by dressing up as Indians with feathers in our hair and making turkeys out of construction paper traced with our hands, and I felt like none of that probably would jive here and now. I only started doing Thanksgiving when I began working as a dishwasher at the retirement home and Rob would make those famous delicious turkey dinners (and now I’m marrying him, possibly for that reason). So actually my earliest memories of Thanksgiving is actually associated with scrubbing giant vats of turkey grease and sticking my finger into the cranberry sauce when the servers weren’t looking.

Luckily Allison came by at that point, having worked miracles by single-handedly cooked Thanksgiving dinner by herself – seriously folks, Allison is amazing. She explained that in her family, it was tradition for to start dinner off with a toast. I have no objections to traditions involving liquor. We poured out the sparkling wine and toasted. Then it was time to eat.

It all shaped up to be a lovely dinner, and we were grateful to have lovely company, seeing how we were far away from our own family. Now we can’t wait for the next North American holiday: Halloween.

our british guests