Thanksgiving To An Expat

Like Pilgrims In Panama

Jackson, 8, my son, born in Waterford, Ireland, schooled in Paris and now Panama City, can tell you more than you’re probably interested in hearing about the Vikings, Napoleon, the building of the Egyptian pyramids, and the history of the Panama Canal…but when it comes to U.S. history, I fear we’ve allowed a gap in his education.

“What is Thanksgiving?” he asked me earlier this week.

We’ve kept the holiday every year we’ve been living abroad, but, to Jack, it’s been nothing more than another dinner party, I guess.

“Thanksgiving is a day when all Americans remember to be thankful for all they have,” I explained to him this week, “for their family, their friends, their home…and for the big turkey dinner they feast on that afternoon.

“It’s also the day when Americans remember their humble beginnings…the pilgrims and others who came first to form the colonies that eventually became the United States of America. We think about how difficult it was for them, arriving in a new place where they had no idea what to expect. We feel proud for how hard they worked and for how they persevered.”

“Do they have Thanksgiving in Panama…or in Paris?” Jack asked.

“Not officially. It’s an American day. But Americans try to keep the tradition, no matter where in the world they happen to be.”

Our first few years in Ireland, I struggled every November to source a turkey, one year going to a friend’s farm to pluck one myself. In Paris, our oven was too small to cook one, so I’d arrange for one from the butcher down the street. He came to expect my annual order.

Here in Panama this year, friends had us over for a turkey dinner with all the trimmings last night…and, later this week, we travel to my hometown, Baltimore, Maryland, to celebrate Thanksgiving Day with my family. It will be Jack’s first Thanksgiving in the States.

“Who were the pilgrims?” Jack continued the conversation.

“They were a group of people from England who felt they could no longer live freely in Britain, so they set out to find a new place to live. Their search eventually led them all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to the eastern coast of North America.

“The pilgrims were followed by others, called colonists, also from Great Britain and elsewhere, also looking for a freer place to live. These colonists came to a new place for a new start and another chance. Some came for the opportunity…to make their fortune. Some came for the adventure…to see what they might see. It was a scary thing to do, to leave home and travel so far not knowing what life would be like in the new place. But exciting, too.”

“You mean like moving to Panama?”

“You could say that, Jack.”

Kathleen Peddicord

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