A German Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is considered a traditional U.S. American holiday. Es ist eine traditionelle U.S. Amerikanische Feiertag und wird jeden November am 4. Donnerstag gefeiert. Obwohl Thanksgiving ein Herbsterntefest ist , wie sie in vielen Kulturen gefunden werden kann, ist es besonders mit US-Kultur verbunden. O. Henry, the writer, called Thanksgiving the one holiday that is purely U.S. American, one on which one can expect anyone in the U.S. to be traveling for or hosting for. There are some problems with the origins of the holiday, as I’ve learned while getting older, but the celebration itself, other than how it’s taught in elementary schools, is removed from those origins  and for many people,Thanksgiving is a time of friends and family reunions… and about food. 

While writing, I had to remind myself that there are different experiences associated with Thanksgiving, For example, for some Native Americans the holiday represents something different than togetherness and is actually a day of mourning. Also, for many of the poor and homeless people living in the States, preparing the huge meal or spending the holiday with friends and family is difficult. But there are also many religious and service organizations who try to make celebrating the holiday possible with holiday meals and events.

Being away from my family this year, I didn’t expect to be celebrating the holiday. Aber dan… heute haben mich mehrere deutsche oder internationalle Studentin darueber angesprochen, und ich habe mich gefreut, als ich sagen konnte, ich werde es auch hier feiern. Ich war zum Thanksgiving Essen eingeladen. I didn’t know if I would be celebrating Thanksgiving this year, since it is the first time I’m not home, but my fellow VDAC American and I were graciously invited by another American in my area, and it turned out to be my first “real American Thanksgiving.”

Ever since I can remember, I’ve celebrated a German Thanksgiving. The only language spoken around the table was German because the guests were all Germans. Once or twice, there was an exception in the form of a U.S. American (other than my father) or a Polish lady, but they always also spoke German. This meant that while we were sitting in South Florida in temperatures too warm for late Fall and eating traditional southern Thanksgiving dishes (no one makes stuffing like my Papa), the atmosphere had a certain German aura that could not be dislodged. Perhaps it permeated because we don’t carry on any U.S. American traditions, like watching football afterwards, or just the euro-centered conversations that went on, but I never came back to school the following Monday the stories like my U.S. American classmates.

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This year, however, I picked up some wine and blackberry juice from the local grocery store, put on a dress and my nice boots with heels, and tried to get into the festive mood.

The place we were invited to was small (a typical student’s apartment) with not enough chairs and a table too small for all the good things that were to go on it… but that could of course happen in any Thanksgiving home. The guests also weren’t all American. There were us two VDAC students, the two US singer-students, a German student who will go to the US next year, a German one of the singers met on the S-Bahn once, a German whom the other singer had befriended, and another America who has been living and performing (Phantom of the Opera?!) for a year already in Hamburg. Our levels of German were acoustically scattered across the board, but it was the general consensus to speak English. Hence, my first American Thanksgiving. 🙂

Jill, our wonderful host, had prepared every single traditional dish. She said that she had been cooking since the night before, and I could believe it. I would have liked to have brought something too! But she had already said not to bring anything except ourselves and maybe something to drink.

It was a delightful evening with other guests coming and going, enough excellent food (green bean casserole, steamed carrots in honey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, and turkey) to go up for three helpings, and just good atmosphere and company.

Jokes were made and politics were discussed (and then quickly topics were changed), much laughing was done, and we went around and every got to say what they were thankful for (this took a while to get everyone settled down for, since as was pointed out by various guests, it is also Thanksgiving custom to interrupt or start side-conversations). When it was my turn, I could only say how thankful I was to be there and celebrating Thanksgiving. I am also thankful to be in Germany and able to complete my MA while abroad. I have experienced so many great things as a citizen of Hamburg. My list of all the things I’ve been able to see and do gets longer each day. The last thing I said I was grateful for was technology, since without programs like MagicJack, Skype, or FaceTime, I would not be able to communicate with my family and friends to the extent that I do. Being able to talk with them and see them has made being away from them (and not getting their hugs) more bearable.

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excuse the fact that I cut Jill out; I did not know if she would want her picture on the interwebs. But look at all the great food!!!

All in all, this Thanksgiving provides me with a wonderful memory that I’ll be able to look back at with fondness. It was such a sweet experience to create a little bubble of America in the room like that.

So it was a surprise when it was after midnight and I was reminded that I had class the next day. In the States, no one would have to worry about being ready for Friday (unless one was a horrible Black-Friday shopper :p). The question of transportation home also became an issue since, while public transportation in Hamburg does run longer on holidays, Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday for the Germans.

But it worked out, since another guest and I (this guest happens to be the German VDAC student who is going to the U.S. through the exchange program next year) both needed to leave “earlier” than the others and left together. We had a nice walk through Hamburg-Altona to the bus station (there are night buses, even when the subways/strassenbahne don’t run), and she convinced me to go a little out of our way to see the Altona Hafen at night.

I am glad we did.

It was a magical ending to a beautiful evening. I’m starting to think Thanksgiving is always good if there’s some German involved somehow.

A surprisingly relevant article I found: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/nov/27/celebrating-thanksgiving-american-student-abroad

Another article I found is for English-as-a-foreign-language speakers:  http://learningenglish.voanews.com/content/american-celebrate-thanksgiving/2529775.html

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