As an (honorary) adult moving into the world, you learn to give up a lot of things: your house and all the people in it, old spots and the friends who took you there, and an entire lifetime of memories and habits and past yous. And it’s exciting to be in a new place for a while. But as the leaves fall off the trees and snow-warnings begin to come in, an inevitable craving for familiarity sets in, a sort of mildly rumbling homesickness. This year, far away from home and surrounded by people with similar notions, I realised one thing: family is who you spend your holidays with. So here’s a photoset in celebration of all the little things (and grand gestures!) that make new friends feel like part of your long lost own. Thanksgiving and Hannukah, Maastricht, 2013.
Let’s start with the turkey, much loved and rubbed, stuffed and basted. The crown jewel of thanksgiving.
Frank, who is in charge of it, waits on it like royalty, climbing upstairs every thirty-two minutes to bathe it in its own lemon-garlic butter juices.
“Have you made one before?” I ask him.
“Yeah, I make the one at home for Christmas every year.”
The thing is, his family moved to England years ago from Nigeria, but they don’t celebrate Christmas like this in his home country. “So the turkey is my thing”, he says. “Some traditions you have to create.”
Work and the weather always seem to turn inclement right before the holidays, but while we wait for the turkey, there’s plenty of time to sit back, listen to holiday music, and just have a good laugh.
And that’s how you know we’re family.
Tusca waits with us too. While she looks out the window, people from the outside world in turn look in, marveling at the fireplace David has managed to project on the wall, and the oddball assortment of people sprawled out on the couches around it.
All that’s missing is the snow (but later we manage to project that onto the wall too).
We put on the carols, David hangs the lights up, and we set some mulled wine to simmer. Even though it’s just thanksgiving/hanukkah, ‘it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas’.
While we wait for the last of the dishes to make their way from the oven, Eli fills up on some mulled wine. The holidays wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t (at least) keep the hungry people in good spirits.
The table is set, the dishes are lined up, and Andrea gives the cranberry sauce a quick stir before we go off to say thanks. Real cranberries, real butter, and a hint of oranges and brown sugar, winning hearts everywhere.
With the offerings in front of us, it’s easy to see where the word cornucopia comes from. I feel like a pilgrim as I pause inwardly to say thank you for the (delicious) food in front of us.
But before we start eating, we all take a moment to give thanks. We are all grateful to be here, of course, but this year is more challenging for some of us. Andrea has left her son behind with her ex-husband to do her master’s. She says it’s hard, but is thankful for the two of them to be together. And she is thankful to have us.
And so are the rest of us.
It is after sunset on the fourth day of Hannukah, and David lights the menorah. Tonight, we are celebrating Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, but they are wholly suffused with the warmth of winter festivals from around the world. In this intimate circle of friends, rituals and religions fade, and new traditions are continuously and comfortably born. Like the pilgrims, we too are far enough from home to appreciate the beauty in what we have.
And then, finally, we eat.
And we eat some more.
And when it’s all done, we eat some more.
The nicest thing I can take away from this evening is that regardless of what’s being celebrated, this is what the holidays are about: being together, being warm, and being stuffed beyond smiles. And as we settle in to watch ‘Home Alone’, we are all a little tipsy, a little sleepy, and very, very well-fed.
Just perfect, thanks.