Giving Thanks Overseas
Vicki and I plan to celebrate Thanksgiving in Chiang Mai, Thailand, this year. In past years we’ve celebrated in Paris, Buenos Aires, London, Penang
(Malaysia), and Chapala-Ajijic (Mexico).
One year in Buenos Aires friends asked me to go on their daily TV show, sort of “Good Morning, Buenos Aires,” and talk about Thanksgiving. I went to the old Lincoln Library in Buenos Aires (this was before the Internet) and looked up “Thanksgiving” in the encyclopedia. On the TV program I explained that we celebrate on the fourth Thursday in November and that the holiday started with early settlers rejoicing at their good harvest. Settlers invited locals to join them, ate turkey, and prayed.
I’ve heard that some modern historians doubt this Thanksgiving story, saying the story may have been made up later. But the story sounded good on TV, and I went with it, in my best Spanish.
I then went on to explain that we still eat turkey on Thanksgiving, and that the price of turkey comes down for the holidays.
“The price comes down?” the hostess asked, incredulous. “How can that be? Here in Argentina the price would go up. Price gouging.”
Finally, I went on to explain Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, the world’s biggest shopping day. Black Friday supposedly marks the first day of the year that retailers run in the black, making money, rather than in the red.
Recently Black Friday ceded its top retail spot to Singles Day in China.
Singles Day started in the 1990s, rather than 400 years ago. China has a huge population, and Alibaba promotes Singles Day as a way for Chinese singles to buy something special for themselves. They do, to the tune of US$9 billion this year.
I had another memorable Thanksgiving in London. In 1992 I came into a small amount of extra money and on a lark headed off to London to spend Thanksgiving with friends there. I stuck around into the Christmas season and went to hear the Messiah sung at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
In the old days in Chiang Mai, before huge numbers of Westerners moved here, Americans celebrated at least some holidays at the American consulate. But as more and more Westerners poured in, the consulate grounds became too small to handle the crowds. The last holiday fete celebrated there was Independence Day six years ago.
These days Halloween and Christmas have caught on big time in Thailand. But Thanksgiving gets some play, too, and many restaurants offer traditional turkey dinners for US$10 or so. Although a handful of Thais celebrate Thanksgiving, for the most part Americans and other Westerners jam into these places on turkey day.
We often skip the turkey specials but always choose to celebrate and give thanks for the good things that happened during the year. For our Thanksgiving in Penang we chose an Indian feast. In Argentina we usually had lavish asados, or barbecues, with five or six meat courses. One year we invited a young Argentine couple that was moving to Texas. Now, in Houston, they report that Thanksgiving has become their favorite American holiday. And they stick with the menu, a big asado with friends.
This year in Chiang Mai Vicki and I will celebrate Thanksgiving at our favorite French restaurant, La Fourchette. We’ll go with new friends, just the four of us. I’ll have duck instead of turkey.
Vicki and I tend to downplay holidays that merely mark the passage of time—birthdays, for example, or anniversaries or New Years. We prefer holidays organized around a theme, like Thanksgiving, St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, Memorial Day, or Labor Day. In recent years we’ve gone a step further and for Thanksgiving try to celebrate with new friends. After all, on Thanksgiving we celebrate the good things that happened during the year. And one of the best things that happens to us, or anyone, ever, is to make new friends.
So that’s it: Our favorite French restaurant, new friends, and thanks. What a simple way to celebrate.
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