Have you ever wondered how expats celebrate their holidays abroad? Here’s how Cat Gaa gets into Turkey Day with her Spanish family in Seville, Spain.
By Cat Gaa
My confession that I never liked Thanksgiving as a kid (or Christmas, for that matter) has always been met with puzzled looks. I didn’t see the point in basing an entire holiday around eating with family members who were constantly at one another’s throat while waiting for the turkey to come out of the oven.
Quite honestly, I’m surprised my friends haven’t spit right in my face yet.
During my early days living in Spain, our holiday celebrations were little more than an excuse to get together and eat, desperate to hold on to any tradition that we could. We made hand-turkeys, did our best to bake without all of the necessary ingredients, and usually just ended up leaving our plates half-full turning to whatever cheap alcohol we’d picked up from the ‘alimentación’ (mini market) down the street. Slowly, the holiday morphed into one of the most cherished events of the year. Known as the most terrible cook in my group of friends, I’d volunteer to bring the wine or plastic silverware and help with cleanup.
I loved sharing the holiday with ‘la familia’ (family)– apart from the Americans, our group was comprised of a pair of Mexicans from Veracruz, half a dozen Spanish boyfriends and flatmates, a German, an Austrian and two Greek roommates. We embraced our American traditions and laughed at how strange it seemed to be eating a half-cooked turkey. One year I took my Spanish boyfriend back to the US with me for Christmas. My grandmother decided to make a full Thanksgiving dinner so that I could eat turkey and gravy and her famous mashed potatoes.
The following morning, I found my boyfriend with his nose in the freezer, pulling out the dishes we’d had the night before to make leftovers for breakfast. Asking why I’d never tried to make the meal myself, I promised to give it a try the following year.
Making good on my promise, I gathered all of the ingredients and ordering a turkey and began planning a full-on menu for the big day. I had the turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, cornbread and two types of pie on the list, and started making a schedule so that my two hands and one oven would have food on the table in time.
In the end, my partner was called to work out of town during Turkey Day, so I called round a bunch of friends to help curb my homesickness and make sure I didn’t have too many leftovers. Nervous my turkey would be too dry or that I’d burn the house down, they deemed the day a success and I even offered to host this year.
Thanksgiving in Seville now has all of the normal trimmings – I order a turkey a month ahead from a local butcher shop, happy to take whatever I can get, even if it doesn’t fit in my oven. My boyfriend, who takes frequent trips to the US, knows to stock up on Jiffy cornbread and cranberry sauce. Now that there’s an American supermarket in town, I can stock up on canned pumpkin and cooking spray, making it far easier to plan a menu.
Even without the American football game and the Macy’s Day Parade, Thanksgiving is the one day a year that I forget about being a ‘guiri’ foreigner and remember all of the good things I’m fortunate to have, including a Spanish family willing to eat my dry turkey.
Cat Gaa left the skyscrapers of Chicago for the olive groves of Southern Spain six years ago to teach English. When she’s not busy making a mess in the kitchen (and waiting for her boyfriend to clean it up), she teaches English and blogs about Seville a her personal page, Sunshine and Siestas.