As I hugged our friends goodbye at our front door, I heard, “Thank you so much,” and, “This was wonderful,” from every person as they bundled up into their jackets and slid their winter boots back onto their socked feet. Ending the night with these firm, warm, cheek-to-cheek embraces with friends new and old couldn’t be a more fitting way to end the night.
During each Thanksgiving we have celebrated abroad, there has been a brief respite in the chaotic day. A moment when I am quiet and I look around the room at the group of people who willingly cram into our tiny space because we asked them to share our tradition. I pause and listen. Conversations blend and weave with one another and the language shifts between English and Swedish depending on who is joining or leaving the conversation. In that brief pause of time, I am so happy and proud to continue the Thanksgiving tradition in our adopted country.
Previously, when we were younger and somewhat financially limited, my husband and I always had a “Friendsgiving” at our house in Atlanta, Georgia. We would go back to our extended families’ homes at Christmas time as our wallets couldn’t stretch enough to cover the travel expenses for both holidays in one month’s time. As a consequence, we have always invited “orphans”—not real orphans mind you, but other friends who weren’t going “home” for Thanksgiving—to our house to celebrate. Our lack of a traditional celebration (i.e., family only) made the transition to celebrating abroad much easier, in my opinion. We were already used to doing our own thing without family nearby.
On Saturday, we held our fourth Thanksgiving celebration in Sweden, and we invited our neighbors to join us. The neighbors in closest proximity to us seem to be quite social and eager for any excuse for a fun gathering of food and drink—Thanksgiving is the holiday they didn’t know they needed in their lives. “So, you have a holiday that is all about eating a ton and drinking a lot while the kids play together downstairs? I’m in!”
Our house was cozy (read: crowded) and spirited (read: noisy), but it was one of my favorite celebrations to date. It wasn’t Pinterest-perfect and I didn’t get any good pictures because I purposefully sat myself in an inaccessible corner so that I couldn’t respond immediately to my children’s needs—they could figure it out this evening without me. I wanted to relax and soak in the family atmosphere despite the fact that none of us were related.
I loved watching interactions between cultures, generations, and strangers as new connections are made. Everyone felt heard, appreciated, and most importantly, thankful. November is a dark and cold month in Sweden, and it is easy to hibernate in your house at the end of each day. I hope that our little annual celebration creates an opportunity in our neighborhood that increases empathy and friendship.
Isn’t it funny how a gathering of friends can result in the warmest and most positive interactions? There was no sordid family history that always results in trouble over time and most everyone shied away from political discussions. All in all, Thanksgiving remains a favorite holiday in our hearts and we hope to continue to celebrate it in our own unique way no matter where we live.