Transient Traditions


 Soup and Spa Receipts – New Thanksgiving Tradition?

So Thanksgiving weekend came and went, and, with all the activity, I couldn’t help thinking about another reality for Third Culture Kids. Often the celebrations of global families are a lot less traditional (long standing and handed down from generation to generation) and a lot more transient (fleeting, not permanent and full of change).

As usual,  my own family experiences are my basis for this insight, and can, hopefully, illustrate what I mean.  When living in the Netherlands, the first overseas Thanksgiving experience that I clearly remember, was one of bringing our native tradition to special Dutch friends.  When my oldest daughter was just a toddler, we went to the local Albert Heijn grocery store, and invested in some Dutch products that could serve as a sort of “to go” substitute for a Thanksgiving meal.  We bought turkey breast fillets, a cream soup to substitute as gravy, and some bread dumplings that had a resemblance to stuffing.  Then we prepared a casserole from the ingredients, and, armed with Thanksgiving dinner in a dish, we crossed the street to share an American tradition with our Dutch “family”.  We had become close to this family through fate. The woman and I learned we were both pregnant at a neighborhood party.  Then we discovered our due dates were the same.  Last, but not least, my Dutch girl and this family’s  Dutch boy were born only three hours apart, with the shared midwife keeping us posted on each others’ progress throughout the births.  It seemed fitting to be sharing some of our culture and tradition with a family that had shared so much of their life with us.

Later, when we lived in our first small, cozy home in Vienna, the November holiday rolled around and we took a look at our local grocery store, and then took a look at our very compact European oven, and we decided a Thanksgiving chicken would be our newest tradition.  The girls still enjoyed choosing white or dark meat, and had the chance to break a small wishbone.  Compromise and flexibility are definite strengths that come from living in a culture that doesn’t revere a massive Butterball, or the means to cook it.

A few years down the road, and we relocated within Vienna to be closer to the International School where I worked and the girls were students.  And in the district where more Americans lived, our friendly, neighborhood Merkur grocery store saw a profitable November opportunity, and started carrying large turkey breasts.  Our Thanksgiving tradition changed to include this closer tie to American tradition.  A few more years down the road, and Merkur started supplying small turkeys (our turkey this year weighed about 4.5 kilos, or 10 pounds, and also fit into the somewhat larger oven of our new house).  With a turkey again front and center as a main dish, our American holiday roots took hold, and we expanded the meal to include family favorites such as sweet potato casserole and pie (no canned pumpkin on Merkur’s shelves and peeling and slicing somewhat available pumpkins from scratch was more than we really wanted to commit to), jellied cranberries (Preiselbeere preserves are a close substitute), mashed potatoes and my husband’s to-die-for stuffing, all became standard parts of the new holiday tradition.  My husband did, however, add chestnuts and sliced Nuernberger sausages to the stuffing in an homage to our current homeland.

And as for family, well that can be transient as well. We originally started our overseas Vienna Thanksgiving with the four of us, but global families tend to create extended family from their friends.   A couple years back, we joined another American family we had become close with at their home.  Last year, missing our daughter who was away at college, we prepared our holiday meal, with a heaviness in our hearts, but took refuge in the fact she was at “home”  celebrating with this very family who had moved back to the U.S. over the summer.

This year, we had a bit of a marathon celebration, starting with an early meal for our now family of three. We then took a plate to our elderly Austrian neighbor who lost his beloved wife last year.  A bit later, we shared another nibble with Canadian friends who came to join us, then walked across the street to dear neighbors and a full house of friends to share dessert. The night was complete when we headed home for a virtual chat and cheers with our college girl and other friends who have become extended family in New Jersey. They were generous enough to welcome our daughter as part of their family this holiday weekend.

Last, but not least, my youngest daughter and I celebrated yet another change in tradition this Thanksgiving weekend.  With no football or Thanksgiving day parade to watch, and forgoing the turkey soup, gumbo, a-la-king and other leftover turkey variations, we headed with our Canadian friends on a train excursion across the border into Hungary for a spa weekend. This year’s holiday weekend included saddling up to the bar in a Hungarian Wild West restaurant, eating potato chip kebabs at the local Christmas market, and finger-snapping along (with gorgeous nails) to a Hungarian swing band rendition of Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

So, for global families and Third Culture Kids, holidays can become a bit less about tradition and more about seizing opportunity and expanding upon tradition. There are a multitude of opportunities to learn about flexibility and adaptability, along with a good dose of humor. Third Culture Kids learn to adapt their traditions to new locations, the availability of ingredients, the absence of family, the adopting and coming and going of very special family friends, the lack of national football teams, and more.  But throughout all of this morphing of traditions, one thing remains (and it’s not the inevitable turkey soup that was still here to greet us when my daughter and I got home). It’s the thankfulness. Even, or maybe, especially, for the often nontraditional, unique opportunities, and the incredible memories created while celebrating transient traditions.




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