How often do we say? “When I was in school.” “When I was little …” “They use to …” November and December are holiday months for most people from the USA and many other parts of the world. Thanksgiving is celebrated in the US, the fourth Thursday of November since the time of President Lincoln in 1863. The tradition of thanksgiving in the US began after the first harvest of the Pilgrims in 1621 however, giving thanks for the first fruits began in the Old Testament. Living overseas during holiday times can be difficult and even depressing if you focus on the “that’s not how we do it” and “that’s not what I was expecting.”
My first thanksgiving in Japan was a long time ago, 1985. I believe it may have been the first time I ever prepared a Thanksgiving meal. I remember lugging a frozen 20 lb. turkey on the train from Kinokuniya(one of the super markets in Ometesando that sold frozen turkeys). I was living on the Odakyu line in Kyodo so I had to take two trains, the Chiyoda line and Odakyu line. Fortunately the church I was working at had an American oven. Not sure what else I made but I’m sure it was for more than 20 students. All I really remember was lugging the turkey! Christmas that year was spent with some missionary friends so I didn’t have to do the cooking!
Our first Thanksgiving after we were married, we invited the young people from our Japanese church for dinner. That is another dinner I don’t remember a lot about, but I know the following year all the church members thought they should be invited so we had a lunch group and a dinner group. I spent all of the day before preparing. We had a rather small microwave/oven that I could not fit a whole turkey. I cut up the turkey and cooked it in pieces! We had over 40 people at our apartment throughout the day for one of the two seatings. After we moved to our first house, I remember having the food on the kitchen table, buffet style and one of the kids’ beds as the table in the living room. Although I’ve cooked many turkeys over the years, I have never served a whole cooked turkey and carved it at the table. I’m not even sure we’ve ever sat around the table, usually it is buffet style and we sit on chairs or the floor.
Growing up, Thanksgiving was a time to watch the Macy parade with its giant balloons and Santa coming to New York. Mom spent much of the day preparing turkey, potato stuffing, sweet potatoes, hot bacon dressing for salad and pumpkin pie. For those who are interested, potato stuffing is made by boiling potatoes and leaving them in the water. Mash them with a fork and add dried bread cubes, celery, a raw egg and a sliced egg on top. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bake for 30-40 minutes. It was also a day of football on TV and while in high school, our Homecoming game. I believe Homecoming is no longer on Thanksgiving, but growing up, dinner was scheduled around attending the game. It was also a time for family. We lived close to my grandparents and they would come for holidays.
Christmas was also a family time growing up. We would open gifts at our house and then drive to my grandparents’ to open more gifts. Then go home and my grandparents and aunt and uncle would come to our house to see all our gifts and have dinner. We’d play games and just hang out. My first two Christmases in Japan were spent with missionaries so they were somewhat similar to what I was accustomed to without all of the gifts. After marriage things changed. Christmas wasn’t a day off for my husband or my children when they were in Japanese school. I had a choice to make. I could want things to be like they were when I was younger and then be frustrated and depressed because my expectations and reality never matched or I could make changes in my expectations.
One expectation I have changed is that Thanksgiving doesn’t have to happen on the fourth Thursday of November and Christmas doesn’t have to happen on December 25th. This year our Thanksgiving was on Sunday, November 23rd. I spent much of Saturday the 22nd cooking in preparation for the company I invited. With 3 of my children living overseas and one living in Akita, I was only able to invite one daughter and her husband, but also invited 4 ladies who have been helping with the Cancer Philosophy Clinics in Higashikurume. Thanksgiving isn’t about a day on the calendar or even about a specific menu. Thanksgiving is an attitude of gratitude from the heart that should happen every day of the year. It’s wonderful to have a day celebrate with family and friends but really we should include our family and friends in celebrations as often as possible.
Christmas has many layers and much that could be written, but that is for another time. When I started writing this, I was thinking about a connection to education and nostalgic feelings about holidays. How often do we as parents or teachers think back to when we were in school and wonder why things aren’t the same? I’m sure everyone can come up with their own theories. But what I would like to end with is:
- We can’t live in the past.
- The world is changing and we need to be willing to change. This is especially true if your child is in an educational setting that is different from the one you grew up in. This might be in a different country or different language. You chose where they and you are for a reason, don’t expect it to be the same as when you where younger.
- Life wasn’t always as happy and content as we remember.
- We all need balance in our lives.
God has showered me with a fabulous family, completely competent colleagues, and phenomenal friends. I am very blessed to be where I am in life. I have the freedom to worship, enjoy my job, have a home that we can share with others, ability to travel and technology that allows ease in communicating with loved ones far away. May you have a blessed Advent season.