Without fail, my Thanksgivings have all followed one charming and memorable mold:
Wake up to the smell of my mom’s sweet potato biscuits. Roll out of the house with my dad and brothers to meet up with neighborhood friends for a raucous and muddy flag football game, naturally called “The Turkey Bowl.” Come home to the smell of roasting meats, aromatic vegetables and baked goods galore, then plunk down in front of the television to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Purina National Dog Show, through which we all provide emotional reinforcement to my dog, lest he feel inferior. After showers and suiting up in earth tone sweaters is checked off the list, it’s time to welcome family, pig out and have a good time.
Every year, pretty much like clockwork. But, this year, instead of the smell of sweet potato biscuits, I’ll be waking up to the wafting aromas of shaved coconut and sizzling plantains. I am, you see, studying abroad in Colombia, and I will be having a markedly different Thanksgiving Day.
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, but on Nov. 24, I’ll be traveling from the Caribbean gem of Cartagena back to my chilly and mountainous abode in Bogotá, so there won’t even be much time to attempt my normal routine of starting the day with Al Roker and ending it by inhaling a turkey leg.
That said, it’s still worth reflecting on the Thanksgiving story. You know, the one of men and women who left behind their homes and families and all they held dear to explore the shores of an alien land, ultimately stopping to give thanks for their good fortunes.
Wait, that sounds like me — here I am, in a remote corner of the world, away from my family and friends, my country and my beloved Hilltop. But, I am finishing up an eye-opening experience, I’m safe and I’m lucky enough — at the end of the day — to have tickets home to San Francisco and eventually back to Washington.
For me, Thanksgiving is a powerhouse of a holiday for two reasons. First, it is American to the core — maybe only beat by the Fourth of July. Second, Thanksgiving emphasizes family and friends over gifts and sensationalism. Unfortunately for me, my Colombian Thanksgiving will keep me far from home. Yet, I can’t help but feel that this distance will make me appreciate those pillars of the holiday all the more.
My patriotism cannot be deflated by distance. Love of family is only reinforced when you can’t fight your brothers for the last piece of pumpkin pie a few hours after having body slammed them into a mud puddle on your way to an epic Turkey Bowl touchdown. And a day devoted to simple thanks becomes all the more potent when you taste the uncertainty and adventure that the holiday’s creators experienced in their own unlikely intercontinental sojourn.
I don’t know exactly what my Thanksgiving will be like here, and it will likely be my first and last in Colombia. But, it will be one I forever cherish, and I promise that my future Thanksgivings, wherever they be held, will now include a new tradition: Sam regaling those gathered with stories from a Thanksgiving past, celebrated by one stubborn American in the unsuspecting heart of South America.
Sam Dulik is a junior in the School of Foreign Service.