Thanksgiving in London - My Family Travels

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. Growing up in a Conservative Jewish household, I would come home to a dark house on a street illuminated by Christmas lights. I remember the sting of feeling left out, like a child picked last for dodge ball. Thanksgiving, though, is a different story. Thanksgiving is something we all celebrate. And Thanksgiving, in my house, is a big-freaking-deal.

Each year, our house is bursting at the seams with 25-30 relatives and friends – from Great Aunt Sandra and Great Uncle Herbie, to those guests my brother and I privately refers to as “the stragglers” – the ever-changing array of visitors who get invited because Mom is adamant that no one should be alone on Thanksgiving. Through the organized chaos, we enjoy our most important traditions – the turkey feast, and the annual family football game.

Fast forward to college. I’ve decided to spend my first semester of junior year studying in London. LONDON! This means excitement. This means adventure. And suddenly, this also means no Thanksgiving.

But missing my favorite holiday at home will be worth it to experience 4 months of travel and culture, right? Besides, my friends and I could create our own Thanksgiving. We are 8 American girls living in a 5-bedroom flat in central London – if we can make that work, we can do anything! I’m determined to have some turkey, even though we are thousands of miles from family, friends and anyone who celebrates Thanksgiving.

As the holiday approaches, the reality of this job is setting in. The local grocery stores are not overflowing with cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes, and I don’t even know if we can find a turkey. How will we cook a feast in our under-stocked kitchen? Where will we store the food when we inevitably run out of room in our tiny refrigerator? And where will we seat all of our family and friends who are taking advantage of the holiday break to come visit us in Europe?

As the problems begin to mount, my hopes of a Thanksgiving feast are looking dimmer and dimmer. The next day, one of my roommates comes home, her step much higher and lighter than the normal drag that screams of 6 hours of class and a harrying rush-hour commute home. We look at her expectantly.

“They’re having a Thanksgiving dinner at school!” she says. We’re all from the same central New York school, studying at the London campus – though the administration pushes cultural immersion, I figure they finally decided to indulge our American tendencies, just this once. Problem solved. All of us – and our guests – could attend the dinner at school. No stress, no fuss…but still turkey.

That weekend, our visitors begin to arrive. Life becomes hectic as we usher them around the city and try to keep up with classes and homework. All of us, as busy as we are, are thinking of that delicious Thanksgiving meal. “A Thanksgiving buffet!,” the school website proclaims. “Turkey, pumpkin pie, and all the trimmings!”

On Thursday, we hop on the tube for the 20 minute ride over to school. Entering the dim auditorium, I let my eyes adjust and begin greeting the familiar faces around me. I introduce my two friends from home, who had made the trip across the pond to experience London. My stomach is grumbling.

Some of the school administrators stand up and make speeches – what we are all thankful for, that sort of thing. I grow uncomfortable as one woman stands up and begins talking about Jesus. She leads the room in saying grace.

A few servers come around offering trays of appetizers. Turkey strips, a couple of potatoes. A few bites here or there. We wait. Where is the buffet? Then, an announcement that the pumpkin pie is being put out, and a line forms.

I stand back. I don’t even like pumpkin pie. Where is the meal? Someone asks around. Those appetizers, evidently, were the meal.

You have GOT to be kidding me.

It is too late now to cook a meal, or find anything resembling a Thanksgiving feast. All I can do is mope about a holiday lost.

And so, we try to let it go. My friends and I go to a Subway and get sandwiches. I sulk, and stubbornly refuse to order turkey on my sub because it’s just not the same. My best friend, Sam, fumbles as she pays for her meal and gets confused by the British currency. I try not to smile, but I can’t help it. Soon, I’m laughing.

My friends and I continue to laugh through the meal. We talk about home and our lives together and apart. We’ve all been friends for over a decade. We have talked and laughed our way from elementary school to college, through crushes and curfews, Bat Mitzvahs, old friends, new friends, boyfriends. We have experienced getting our licenses and getting into our dream colleges. And we have certainly survived way more together than a crappy Thanksgiving, from divorced parents and the deaths of loved ones, to failed tests, breakups, and staying close while we live in different states (or countries!)

Ok, so it wasn’t the perfect Thanksgiving. But life usually isn’t perfect – that’s what makes it exciting. And I wanted adventure, right?  

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