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Starting a New Tradition Abroad


Displaced during the holidays, Sagan finds new reasons—and ways—to celebrate

No matter what holiday it may be that you’re missing while being away from your native country, it can bring a little heartache or happiness—or it could even bring both.

For me, as an American abroad, I don’t miss much from the United States besides my family and a few close friends. Okay, and maybe some of the restaurants, too.

But for me, I find it hardest to be away from the United States at Thanksgiving. The fourth Thursday in November when the kitchen is full of family, a turkey is in the oven, and pies and an array of other dishes line the counters ready to be eaten.

Living abroad since 18, I have had my fair share of Thanksgivings away from my family. In the past eight years, I’ve been home for only two. While living in Halifax, Nova Scotia I had my own Thanksgiving celebrations in October with friends and my Canadian family. So, all wasn’t lost. It was when I moved to Spain in 2010 where folks not used to the concept of the holiday surrounded me. Far away from my own family and with only one American friend, it felt lonely.

Coming from a family of 30 plus people—aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents—it takes a lot to recreate the Thanksgiving experience abroad.

Since then, I’ve done my best to gather friends and acquaintances that wish to celebrate my holiday with me despite not having the same traditions. In 2013, I sent out a message to a group of friends (and friends of friends) with a list of traditional Thanksgiving foods, inviting them to celebrate with me at my home. While I made the chickens (turkey is too expensive in Spain!), gravy, stuffing and cookies, each person had to choose one of the other dishes listed and bring it the day of Thanksgiving. It’s been one of the most memorable Thanksgivings abroad yet.

There were 16 of us. Not everybody knew one another, so it was a chance to really embrace the spirit of the holiday; bringing together friends to celebrate the things we were thankful for in our lives. Everybody mingled; everybody waited until I gave the go-ahead to eat. But before we did so, I explained the traditions and then each one of us went around and said what they were thankful for—I wish I had recorded it.

After, we served out all the food and ate and drank until we couldn’t anymore. We shared stories and laughed hysterically over shared smokes and digestifs. I really felt loved and a lot less lonely being so far away from my large family.

This year, the celebration was much more laid back; just four of us eating burgers at a American BBQ joint in Madrid. And although it was much different, it was with people I truly love. People I hope to spend the next 60 plus years of my life with, so it was a good start to a life-long tradition.

It’s funny, when you’re a kid you don’t think about creating your own traditions—you simply accept them for what they are whether you enjoy them or not. Growing up I never thought I’d be living in Spain so far away from my family. I never thought I’d have to start new traditions myself with the people I love here. But it’s an experience I’ve learned to accept, which is why now even though Thanksgiving in my new country makes my heart ache just a little bit, it also makes me really happy to think of all the wonderful people who want to share this special day with now me now.

How do you deal with special holidays abroad and away from your culture, your loved ones, and friends?

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Sagan Pope

A native of Maine, Sagan now lives in Madrid, Spain where she follows her passion of exploring new places, eating amazing food and sharing good wine with friends. Sagan expresses herself best through writing and photography and along with her ukulele and travel backpack. Explore the ins and outs of the world with Sagan! 

Website: www.nativeofthenorth.me/

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