Some people collect artwork or knick-knacks; others collect antique furniture or fridge magnets. Do you have a favorite jacket from a particular vintage market abroad that every time you wear you think of that place, that time, that memory? For me, after spending over a decade in three different countries and four cities, I‘ve collected foreign traditions and words — which is why in my hometown in Australia, I celebrate Thanksgiving.
My friends had not heard of Thanksgiving until they received my invitation.
When you live an expat life, it’s not surprising to feel homesick at times. Simple things like celebrating traditions from home or eating food from home can help counter these feelings. In New York, I would head to one of the many Australian owned cafes for some avocado toast and a flat white when homesickness hit. Other times, like for the Australian Rules Football (AFL) Grand Final, I would head to The Australian pub (sadly, now closed) in Midtown.
Yet, when you move back to your home country, it’s a different kind of homesick — or nostalgia, rather — you feel when you long for your adopted country’s traditions.
By keeping holiday traditions alive from my adopted countries (UK and the US), it helps me feel closer to experiences I shared that may otherwise be forgotten.
In Australia, I celebrate Thanksgiving and Halloween. Without design, I’ll also incorporate words from my life abroad into my everyday language here. Did you know arugula is called rocket in Australia? Or instead of scallions, we have spring onions?
“What night is it on?” my friends asked as I invited them to Thanksgiving. When I explained that Thanksgiving was celebrated on the last Thursday of November every year, they were outraged.
“A Thursday?!” they cried, obviously thinking of work day hangovers.
Once realizing that a Thursday calendar invitation was in fact quite very supportive for the busy festive season that has plans dominating every weekend in December, my friends were pleased to receive an invitation that didn’t upset their busy calendars.
“Can we all wear Christmas jumpers and dress up?” one asked. I attempted an explanation that Thanksgiving was about giving thanks and gratitude.
I shook my head as the other asked if they should bring silly gifts akin to a secret Santa gift swap.
Sure, you can wear Christmas sweaters, but traditionally, you won’t find me blasting out Mariah Carey’s Christmas album until Black Friday, when it’s acceptable to put up your tree.
It was like I was transported into a movie montage of all the Thanksgivings I had celebrated. There was the time in Park Slope with Australian friends. Then, the time my sister and I traveled to Belize for Thanksgiving and we both got seriously sick (she told me I could drink the water).
My favorite Thanksgiving was spent in my corner apartment in the Lower East Side. My roommate hosted dinner for a wonderful bunch of misfits who had no family in town. The invitation list grew from anyone we knew who didn’t happen to go home that year to people I met on the day that had no plans.
It snowed in Brooklyn that year. I remember a part of my life that at times feels very far away.
The pandemic will keep many families and friends apart. Some will celebrate in small groups or with their households only. Most won’t be flying home or traveling at all due to Covid travel restrictions. Thanksgivings of the past will be longed for.
Ginger Klee, LMFT, LPCC, who specializes in treating the LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities, cannot emphasize enough how important human connection is for most mental health issues, including homesickness.
“It can be a challenging balance of gratitude that you can engage in that familiarity, and yet honoring that sadness that is likely isn’t the same as being home,” Klee tells GO.
With small incorporations, you can help fight those feelings of longing by adapting to your present situation.
“Expression of loss can be done in a variety of ways,” says Klee. “The important part is honoring the feeling and making space to feel and express them.”
Recipes are aplenty for Covid friendly meals. I’ve seen mini single-serve pumpkin pies. Maybe you won’t feel like virtually dining together, but maybe you will feel like virtually cooking together. Throw Zoom or Facetime on your smartphone and cook the same recipes at the same time with family or friends in a different state. If your turkey turns out dry, no matter!
“During this global pandemic, some sort of human connection is so vital – even virtual,” Klee says, “I believe many queer people have been engaging in virtual urbanization far more than others, because the internet was and continues to be a way for us to connect with one another safely and find our people.”
For me, I will be missing America on Thanksgiving. There may not be pumpkin pie or scarves or mittens, but there will be food shared among family and friends and gratitude spoken to each other. I will be celebrating in a different way that matches Australia, which may mean outdoor dining on a balmy night. I will be dressed in shorts and a singlet, unlike a toasty U.S. Thanksgiving dressed in boots and a coat.
Thankfully, Klee agrees with my celebrating American traditions in Australia. “By engaging in your cultural traditions and practices, you can immerse yourself in the familiarity of where you come from, and that familiarity can bring comfort,” she says. “At the same time, there is a chance it can be a bittersweet experience: Feeling both happy and sad because it reminds you of home and that you miss home.”
Much to my partners’ chagrin, I ask my toddler whether he would like some cantaloupe.
“It’s a rock melon,” I hear a shout from across the room.
“Can-tee- low-peh, cantaloupe. Rock melons can have two names,” I explain, sounding it out to our three-year-old.
You see, where I have lived has made me who I am, and I’ll hold onto the little things for as long as I can.