True festivity both comes from our delights and spurs us to new rejoicing in a constant spiral. Hard times are not a hindrance to celebration; instead, they help us know how much we need revelry to open our minds and hearts to gratitude for what we have failed to notice. Marva Dawn


This week has been the hardest so far. The shiny glow of the expat honeymoon period has been wearing thin. Ironically, Thanksgiving provided the catalyst for this hardship. A group of new friends put on a take-and-share meal (and that should indicate to you that this particular group of friends is largely not American). My expectations of the take-and-share were quickly misdirected toward something of the mythic early American variety: rough hewn tables laden with steaming, familiar foods, lovingly prepared for hours and indulged in liberally.

What I experienced instead was the grand stress I placed upon my shoulders to prepare no less than four Thanksgiving favorites: mushroom salad, cranberry sauce, candied sweet potatoes, and apple pie. All this using two knives, one mixing bowl, and no oven.

A word to the wise: shortening is not a thing in Belgium. If you opt to use butter for a pie crust, be aware that a butter crust requires no less than four hours time to rest. Mine was given thirty minutes. Hmph.

Sweaty, tired, and crabby, we hauled our culinary preparation across town and deposited them in the midst of the other take-and-share offerings: curry soup, ratatouille, cheeses, smoked salmon. Whatever the Thanksgiving celebration was that I had conjured up in my head, this was not it. These are delicious European treats, not the makings of an American Thanksgiving. I felt very alone, perched atop a bar stool at the corner of the crowded kitchen table, nibbling my cheese and bread.

Surrounded by these lovely and loving people, I felt the pit of my stomach give way. It struck me, with a sort of pang, that my holiday has very little meaning here, and while everyone found American pie to be quite delicious, they could not share in my twenty-seven years of memory, tradition, and delight. Thanksgiving, in my family, gives Christmas a run for its money.


But this year, Thanksgiving is lonely.


The worst part is that the actual day is still ahead of us. Somehow between today and Thursday, I’ll adjust my expectations. Sure, mashed potatoes are achievable without an oven and we have some cranberry sauce leftover. Jacob is vegetarian, so I might find a small rotisserie to enjoy by myself, or I might not take the trouble. What I’m craving isn’t a banquet. What I’m craving is familiarity and family. What will help is setting aside an entire day to “open our minds and hearts to gratitude for what we have failed to notice.” That is American Thanksgiving, my expat friends.