January 3, 2011

New Traditions

I think migrants engage in a conscious process of deciding which old traditions to purposefully carry on, which to abandon (willingly or reluctantly) and which host country traditions to adopt.

And sometimes, you just make up something new.
This holiday season has been a conglomeration of all these strategies.

So this entry backtracks to Thanksgiving. Actually, for a moment, I’ll jump back to Thanksgiving 2006 when several of our American friends and family were gathered in NZ for our upcoming wedding.  With no means to create a proper Thanksgiving dinner, all the American guests ordered Indian take-out, sat around a picnic table, and toasted this unorthodox celebration. 

This is a precious memory to me and to all, so I’ve heard, who were there.

But I’ve also wanted to integrate a traditional Thanksgiving dinner into my NZ life. It’s my favorite holiday and as America’s newest citizen, James has embraced Thanksgiving like nobody’s business as well.  But we’ve never pulled it off here in NZ and this year I began to get awfully discouraged – some traditions just aren’t transferable, even with considerable, conscious effort. 

This year, I planned to go all out - 3 Americans would be visiting! But late November is early summer here. A really busy time for everyone. Our 3 friends were travelling around NZ, James was climbing Mt. Cook and I was home alone.  Locally, it’s an ordinary work day – Thursday is not a day for cooking and gathering and “Black Friday” is not a day for recovering and shopping.  And even if I had remembered to collect my family’s recipes, I realized half the ingredients aren’t available here. (Cheese Whiz! What’s Thanksgiving without Cheese Whiz!?!  If you aren’t with me on that one, how about cranberry sauce? Pumpkin pie? Turkey? Getting the picture?) 

James with his favorite Thanksgiving dish.

It seemed Thanksgiving had rolled on by yet again, much to my chagrin. And like many little things, this was ballooning in my homesick mind and becoming a symbol of all the little “pieces of me” that have been left behind.

And then a couple of weeks later, returning from a conference in Wellington, I opened the front door and my little Dunedin house smelled just like my mom’s or sister’s during Thanksgiving.  Our 3 visiting American friends had contacted my family for recipes and ideas. They had created Thanksgiving all the way down to the Macy’s Day Parade – my sister’s idea - streaming on the internet! They’d substituted missing ingredients and used the canned pumpkin brought from America for not one, but FOUR pumpkin pies -- even though, they discovered, pie pans could not be bought anywhere in town. 

They’d even forged a plan to mimic my family’s ritual post-dinner walk to view Christmas lights.  With daylight reigning until 10 pm and a near-complete lack of Christmas lights, they planned a bike ride instead – to view the big Christmas tree in the Octagon.  And so it came to be that four Americans and James left a Thanksgiving feast aboard 5 bicycles and careened their way into town. At least it was quite a chilly evening. Bundled up, I could almost ignore the bright summer-night sky!

Along the way, we forged a plan for my future NZ Thanksgivings. Indian take-aways on Thanksgiving Thursday (which is still Wednesday in America anyway). And on Friday, I’ll cook a meal, armed with recipes and substitutions, while friends and family back home cook their big meals too.

Sometimes rescue efforts are not grandiose, like pulling a friend from a burning car or sinking boat. Sometimes friends rescue you by creating Thanksgiving in New Zealand on a Wednesday in December.

Nick's handmade decorations!


  1. That is so sweet :-) Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, too. All of the good food and visiting family without the commercialization of gifts! We didn't celebrate it this year {too much morning sickness!}, but I'm hoping to make pumpkin pie next year. They had STACKS of pumpkin pie filling at Martha's Backyard. The only thing is that turkey is so darn expensive over here!

  2. Aw.....that is priceless!!!!