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THOSE MOMENTS WHEN OUR HEARTS ARE CONSCIOUS OF OUR TREASURES*
As long as I've lived in Sweden, I've tried to keep my American heritage alive for my children, and for myself. I would say we celebrate certain traditions religiously throughout the year, but truth is, we're not religious about it at all. We just think it's fun. I've had to learn to compromise my expectations for some dearly-held family favorites and we've learned to create our own meld of Swedish & American celebrations. Christmas, for instance, is a 2-day festival here. Halloween is organized down to the minute. There is no real outside motivator for my kids when it comes to the big American 3...they get no reminders from school or friends that the 4th of July, Halloween or Thanksgiving are coming up. They don't decorate their classroom with hand turkeys or pilgrims.

Our first year in Sweden, Anders & I lived in an apartment in Malmö. When Thanksgiving rolled around, I was hugely pregnant with Martin, who was due on November 17th, but by Thanksgiving was already late by a week (and destined to be even later after another 14 days had passed). I had met some people and made some tentative friends and had even been to the first meeting, a few weeks earlier, of what would become the AWC. My mom was staying with us, in anticipation of her first grandchild's impending birth, and we decided that a real Thanksgiving was in order. I was missing the huge family celebration that had been a part of my childhood and life for years: EVERYONE, cousins, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other miscellaneous relatives gathered together under one roof. We didn't have it every year either, since we were often far away, but any time it was possible, when Thanksgiving came, we gathered our loved ones and celebrated together. I wanted to have something similar, even though I was living in Sweden.

That first year, it was Anders & me, my mom, and Anders' family. They had never had a real Thanksgiving dinner before. I'm not actually sure if they had ever had a whole roasted turkey, though they had certainly had goose, which is a southern Swedish tradition the same time of year. But Swedes stuff their goose with apples & plums. They had never had bread stuffing. They had never had pumpkin pie. NEVER HAD PUMPKIN PIE. Imagine! Everyone agreed that it was good and that it tasted like "mjuk pepparkakor" (soft gingersnaps). And to be honest, even though I know they enjoyed the meal and we all had a good time, it was quite obvious that this was not going to be a tradtion that they were really interested in being a part of the way Americans celebrate. It was...just a nice dinner.

It's hard to hold Thanksgiving on the actual 4th Thursday in November here in Sweden. It's not a holiday, and the day after is not a holiday; they are just regular work days. Impossible to plan for and have a huge dinner in the middle of a regular work week.

So the following year and for every year after that, we invited our friends for Thanksgiving dinner on the Saturday following the actual holiday: other half-Swedish, half-American couples that were a part of the group of people that we were getting closer to, that we were in the same situation with, and who were also trying to keep this particular American holiday alive for themselves and their children the same way I was. The core group is, of course, the Wonders: my first friends here in Sweden, and their families. Debbie, Angie, Emily, Kelly. Kathey & Russell were a part of the group before they moved away, and we even called them several years in a row during our dinner (waking them up in the middle of the night in Australia) to sing snaps songs at them. Barbara & Paul joined us early on as well after she and I became friends.

Various other friends have joined us over the years, including my friend Camilla, old friends from Tetra Pak in Chicago that moved to Sweden on job rotation (Katrina & Adam, Paul & Selese). My friend Carol came a few years in a row with her family, before she passed away. My brother and Simone have been a part of our celebration. Even Lambi the poodle joined us one year (she graciously brought along Marie & L-G)! And now my cousin Cate and her family are a natural part of our guest list.

Because we are such a large group, and always have been, we decided after that first year to divide up the responsibilities. Our goal is to make sure that everyone we invite feels like they are essential in bringing Thanksgiving to life. And let's face it, I am not anything close to the kind of person who could pull off cooking this feast-o-rama for my own family, much less quadruple that. Thank goodness I am married to a man who IS capable of pulling it off, and who is a whiz with a carving knife to boot!

Each year I send out an email after the RSVPs have been received and confirmed and divvy up the food responsibilities. I do the grocery shopping, house-cleaning, table-setting and dishwashing aftermath. Anders takes care of the turkeys, the gravy, the stuffing IN the turkeys, and the mashed potatoes. And each family makes/buys & brings one of the other essential menu items: more dressing, Spanish black olives, cranberry relish, green bean or broccoli casserole, cornbread, a sweet potato dish (some years it's sweet, some years it's savory), pumpkin pies and at least one other dessert...we've had everything from pecan pie to chocolate layer cake to apple pie. Someone is delegated to bring wine and sodas. Someone else to bring late-night snacks for later.

And every year our friends bring the most important things of all: welcome hugs, huge smiles, big appetites, endless laughter, good conversation and best of all, a warm fuzzy feeling of friendship, tradition, ritual and love. I don't just feel American when my family and friends are gathered around our table(s) eating turkey(s) and making toasts and talking. I feel complete in a way that is hard to explain. Kelly told me once that our Thanksgiving dinner is a highlight of their year and that the whole family looks forward to it. I feel THANKFUL. Thankful that we are able to host this feast every year and thankful that I have great friends who want to share it with us (and bring their awesome cooking skillz with them). It's the whole point, isn't it?

Even if my children never know what it's like to grow up in America, and even if they've never watched a football game in their lives, they will know and understand the importance of Thanksgiving. They will know it's not really about the turkey or the stuffing or the pie. They'll know it's about the JOY of gathering your loved ones around you and giving thanks with and for all of them.

We've been slackers about photos the past few years, but I'll definitely make sure a group shot happens this weekend!

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*Title from a quote by Thornton Wilder
 grateful
mood: grateful
music: The Judybats—Native Son


Comments

Those pictures are great! And it all sounds exactly as it should be. We are going up to my mom's like usual, but this year it's just us, and as much as I'm excited about all the great food, I'm bummed there won't be more people there. Thanksgiving especially is one time I'd agree with my Anders, that I just like having people around.

I wish I had one for EVERY year. Really could smack myself that I haven't insisted on taking the time for the photo...the day sometimes runs away with us :)

Just lovely. :)

Hello lurker! :D Thanks! :)

Looks and sounds like a fantastic event indeed!

It's worth looking forward to, for sure :)

(Anonymous)

Have a wonderful time!

julia@kolo

Happy Thanksgiving, dear fellow expat!

Same to you! Hope you have a good celebration, however you choose to do it!

Great photos Liz. Take one this year.

I will, I will ! :)

Thanksgiving is one American holiday I really wish we could adopt here as well. It has a universal meaning at least as far as giving thanks and be grateful for what you have.

I have to admit that Halloween does nothing for me here - I would LOVE to celebrate it for real, in the US or with you for example though - but how it has been "adopted" here , it's just commerce, a reason to sell more for the retail business. And people mix it up with All Saint's Day that is a whole different thing where you remember your lost loved ones... a time of reflection and remembrance.

It doesn't go well with Halloween for me.

But thanksgiving - I'd love to adopt that!! I really love the message of the holiday.

Have a fantastic celebration. :)

Mia

PS. I have never tasted pumpkin pie either, never tasted pumpkin at all for that matter. :) But I like mjuk pepparkaka so I would probably love pumpkin pie!

I agree with you...although it's taken many many years for Halloween to evolve to the holiday it is today in the States...and we got it from Europe! Go figure :)

Thanksgiving IS special and it's so uniquely American...but I agree with you that it ought to be a universal holiday. The Canadians have it, though they celebrate theirs earlier than we do, but the details are pretty much the same.

You simply MUST try pumpkin pie sometime. There must some Americans up there you can make friends with and hint PIE at :)

Thanksgiving!

Even Tigger came one year!
Miss you guys this year, Samuel says he cant wait to make it sometime.
especially for the pumpkin pie!

Enjoy, and Thanks for the post!
-Unkie Johnnie

Re: Thanksgiving!

Miss you too :) I had to go back up and look at the photos to see what you were referring to: haaa!! That Karin! XOXO and SEE YOU SOON! :D

I've never had pumpkin pie.

That is just SAD. Get that rectified immediately, miss! PIE NOW!

From Megsie

This is such a powerful, beautiful post. I read this on Wednesday while blurry eyed. Then, as I was peeling the sweet potatoes, I was thinking about it yesterday, and when I was making the caramel dip, and when I was slicing the apples... You have such a great tradition, and what is astonishing to me is that YOU built it. You. You are one amazing woman, Liz! I am thankful for YOU.

Re: From Megsie

Caramel dip! YUM, that sounds good :)

It IS a great tradition, and one that I am really happy about...sometimes it's stressful, but it's ALWAYS worth it :) We feel pretty prepared right now!

From Megsie

It is SO easy, if you can get the ingredients?

2 bags of butterscotch chips
2 cans (14oz) sweet condensed milk.
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon vanilla

I half this recipe and usually we still have left overs. So, so good with thinly sliced apples!

Re: From Megsie

I have butterscotch chips, but will have to hunt for the sweetened condensed milk!

Edited at 2011-11-26 09:59 am (UTC)

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