Growing up in my small family, Thanksgiving dinner meant that we pulled out the dining room table to add a leaf to seat six. The china cabinet was opened and the dishes on display most of the year were carefully removed and set for dinner. Pulling out the silver drawer as a child allowed me to feel the fuzzy, velvet lining as my sister and I counted out six forks, knives, spoons and serving utensils. We repeated this at Christmas and Easter. Once dinner was over and my birthday cake devoured (my birthday is in November and always celebrated later at Thanksgiving), my father and I returned to the basement rec room to watch football. This was our tradition and while my dad was alive, I missed this tradition twice – once on my first visit to London in college and again on my visit to Perth & New Zealand. While others wondered how I could miss my family on this important day of turkey and football, I reminded them that coming from a small family that saw each other regularly, it was ok to miss a dinner if I had the opportunity to travel (with my parents pre-approval of course).
The year my dad passed, my mom boycotted Thanksgiving – there would be no turkey, no football, no family gathering for dinner as our family was one man down and we all were trying to cope. Mom was pretty steadfast to veto all turkey day options. At the time I was planning my Australia RTW trip, Thanksgiving was a consideration until Mom boycotted it so I ended up with my Thanksgiving in Paris staying with a friend. While you can try to run away from grief, it is never that far behind no matter how magical a place may be.
Thanksgiving in Paris
Before I left, I researched all the Thanksgiving in Paris dinner options (there are a few for the American expats and friends like Breakfast in America) only to find that my friend had planned to host his first Thanksgiving to celebrate with his international friends, which was more exciting.
For Thanksgiving in Paris to work, you need:
- A Turkey, of course, and in France, that turkey might come with its head and feathers my friend told me which frankly scared me (he may have lied to freak me out and get a laugh). Luckily, my friend got the requisite Butterball turkey (it pays to have friends in the Embassy!)
- The other American thanksgiving requirement – cranberry sauce in a can (my friend’s mom brought that a few weeks prior)
- A plethora of vegetables for side dishes (easy to shop for at the markets in Paris)
- French Requirement: Visit the cheese shop for a very stinky cheese his friend loved (the refrigerator smelled every time I opened it).
- Bread: Usually Pillsbury crescent rolls or biscuits but we made do with fresh French baguettes (sorry Pillsbury Dough Boy, I love baguettes)
- Alcohol (the more family, the more alcohol needed to preserve sanity) – French Wine was definitely up for the task! Champagne is also a great option.
- To dine early (usually 5 o’clock) so you can have leftovers later at night. In Paris, dinner started at 8ish so I had to pre-eat.
- Lots of pies, cakes, more pie and desserts – As I’m the dessert person, I ordered an indulgent chocolate torte from the (famous) Maison Dupuy patisserie on Rue Cadet.
My friend cooked all day while I joined a walking tour of Paris Street Art (lucky me!). Returning back to the flat, I entered to smells of turkey from the kitchen and in that moment, I could have been home in the U.S. but the French television program quickly brought me back to Paris. While we waited on our international guests to arrive – French, Ukrainian and Italian, I decided to FaceTime my mom at home (thankful for technology). Past Thanksgivings abroad, I either did the collect call trick with dad (pre-internet, mobile phone) or texted. Mom asked about my trip to Australia, I told her about Sydney raining on my birthday parade (she wasn’t surprised), the Paris Christmas Markets and how my flight home was affected by the strike. She seemed in good spirits as she told me all the invites she had declined and yet there was a ton of food deliveries from her friends. She and the dog had enjoyed a relaxing day of football.
Later as our guests sat ready to experience Thanksgiving, we each said what we were thankful for. I was thankful to have found Thanksgiving in Paris to help lessen the pit of sadness over my first Thanksgiving without my dad. Had I stayed home with Mom’s boycott, I would have been alone in a sympathy boycott. Thanksgiving was never going to be the same and I’m still getting used to that.
So whether you are sharing Thanksgiving with friends, family or are traveling alone to a new adventure, make sure you take time to be thankful for all the good things in your life.
Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!
Note: I originally posted this at Thanksgiving in 2014. My Thanksgiving in Paris is still a powerful memory of a crappy year that really questioned what I could be thankful for after such a sudden loss. I’d like to make this an annual rememberance post to remind me to be thankful every day.