Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday back in the States. And being so far away from it this year allowed me to reflect on why that is. I realized it’s just so simply celebrated. There are no costumes, no gifts, no cards, and little decorations. Just friends, family, and food. (One of the volunteers pointed out that I must not be preparing the Thanksgiving dinner if I think it is simply celebrated. Point taken, but still, there’s a simple nature to how you celebrate it).
This was the first time I was away from my family on Thanksgiving. The day itself came and went rather unceremoniously, but I did celebrate in a number of small ways. One. I printed out little cards in Russian saying that today was a holiday in America and I was thankful for all of the hospitality I had received in Kazakhstan. I gave out small pieces of candy with this note, possibly forever confusing Halloween and Thanksgiving in the minds of dozens of Kazakhstanis. Two. I smsed Thanksgiving notes to other volunteers with text from someecards.com, which is how I celebrate holidays back home. Three. I made mashed potatoes, with lard substituted for butter (making me realize what that distinctive taste in all of their food finally is).
However, for me the real holiday was celebrated on Saturday. And it was awesome! Six of us PCVs gathered in Taraz to put on a Thanksgiving to remember for ourselves and about a dozen locals. Dave managed to buy, kill, and clean about a ten pound turkey. Susanna cooked apple and pumpkin pie, as well as took care of cooking the turkey and the stuffing. Jenny made some glazed carrots and whole grain mac and cheese. Matt cooked some amazing fish cakes and corn bread muffins. Jamie covered the mashed potatoes, tomato and cucumber salad, brownies, and pumpkin bread. I made a Hotard casserole and sweet tea. Each of us spent time over the hot stove and used the oven in shifts to get everything ready.
Seems pretty authentic, right? Well, we were missing football. Until Jamie remembered she had the Fiesta Bowl game between Oklahoma and Boise State saved on her computer. Not just a football game, but maybe one of the greatest football games ever played. The game finished as the guests were arriving, which allowed ten locals to watch me freak out over a game I had already seen. Part of the emotion was real, and part of it was trying to recreate what I had felt that first time watching the game. I wanted to expose them to what watching football was like in America. Not a single one of them had any real idea what was going on, nor why the hook and ladder play was just ridiculous. They did understand the proposal at teh
After the game ended, we finally got around to eating our feast. Amazingly it really felt like Thanksgiving. The food, the football, the friends. And everything was really good. There honestly wasn’t a weak dish among the bunch. Apparently, we have some good cooks down here in the Zhambyl Oblast.
In order to spice up the post-eating party, we decided to play a few rounds of Bear, Ninja, Cowboy. Except someone wanted to make the game more seasonal, so we played Bear, Cowboy, Indian. It’s a variation on Rock, Paper, Scissors in which full body motions and sound effects are required. Then finally, pie was eaten, food was gone, and the guests all went home. And we were left there with tons of dishes and the immense satisfaction of having done Thanksgiving right. It felt great.