Tracy recounts our impromptu Thanksgiving celebration Saturday.

On Thursday, when people back in the US were gathering with family or friends to celebrate their rendition of Thanksgiving Day, Brian and I carried on as usual here in South Africa.

Brian went to work. I took the kids to school. The numerous daily tasks were still there to be done. So with the stresses we all feel during the weekly grind, we decided to give ourselves grace and go with a meal requiring a little less energy but still satisfying: Domino’s pizza! (And yes, they do deliver.)

We had briefly thought of trying to have a Thanksgiving meal over the weekend. However, I was still a little jet-lagged and probably culture-lagged, too, having arrived back in Cape Town only four days before. The thought of the prep involved was just too overwhelming, so I made peace with the idea of waiting ‘til next year. Yet around 11am Saturday morning Brian and I were chatting about what we should do for lunch and dinner that day when I said that for dinner we could have leftover spaghetti, unless we wanted to go ahead and have a simplified Thanksgiving-style meal. Brian replied, “Yeah – let’s do that” (and with my 14 years of marriage communication skills I clarified that it was “yeah, Thanksgiving”). I just looked at him and smiled.

“Really, honey?” I asked.

“Yeah, it will be great,” he said with the calm assurance of someone who wasn’t in the throes of Thanksgiving dinner prep.  Yet. I love this man!

So he made a list (probably checked it twice) and set out for the grocery store. (Did I mention that it is Black Friday weekend here, too, and that it is apparently a crazy-busy shopping day, even though this is only the third year they’ve done it?) Meanwhile, Karen and I sat down and made some decorations. We traced and colored and detailed pictures of hand-outline turkeys, pumpkins, and Karen drew a cute owl holding a sign, “I believe it’s OWL time (“our time”) to celebrate Thanksgiving!”

Decorations went up, the tidying and cleaning blitzkrieg took place, and I got out serving dishes and pots and set up the table and chairs. At some point, we started calling friends to invite people who might not have experienced Thanksgiving before (they do not celebrate Thanksgiving here in South Africa). One could come! Two more would let me know! One could not. Another family might! My friend who car guards at the mall across from us might! It was looking like we’d have quite a feast.

Thanksgiving wouldn’t feel the same to us were it just Brian, Karen, Billy and I. Small celebrations can be very nice, however, we are used to hosting around 20-25 people at our house and enjoy the chaos of cousins reconnecting and the food prep frenzy. It took Brian a long time in line (and a trip to a second store to find celery), but he arrived back with the supplies for our meal and we jumped in. He is the chef, and I am very happily his sous chef.

img_1331Some necessary modifications occurred. With many things common in America not available here, several ingredients had to be substituted or made from scratch. Instead of a turkey, we bought two rotisserie chickens. Dressing (not stuffing, since the birds were precooked) required drying bread slices in the oven to make bread cubes and using bouillon for the chicken broth. Green-bean casserole meant making a roux, white sauce, and fried onions from scratch (Brian must be commended for letting Billy help when Billy asked if he could help make dinner; 45 minutes later, the green beans were thoroughly washed but still not all snapped). Peach pie required fresh fruit for the filling and margarine instead of vegetable shortening for the pie crust. Gravy consisted of a powder and some boiling water. Some were the same, though: the relish tray with olives and pickles and carrot sticks peeled by Karen; the creamy, buttery mashed potatoes; fresh whipped cream for the pie.

The food processor Brian bought while I was in New York got used and washed about eight times in three hours, easing the chaos substantially.

As each of the dishes began to come together, so did our guest list! My friend who car guards could come with a friend. Our other friends from nearby were coming and bringing a friend also. I looked at Brian – this is what happiness is – that moment when you suddenly know again why you love someone. Sure, Brian wanted to do all this as well, but I felt like it was a special gift he was giving me. And a gift I got to share with others. And one that we could both give to God.

There was a small odyssey to connect with B, my car guard friend who didn’t know where we live. I waited a while on the corner of our street, then wandered through the mall parking lot, asked another car guard where he was, and then ran (ok, let’s be honest – jiggle-jogged) back to the house to get the car, and drove to our church, where he and his friend had walked and were waiting for me. He had thought the meal was there, as he has come with us to service and a meal after.

Finally, we were all there. Brian gave a beautiful explanation of what Thanksgiving is about: a time of sharing our blessings with others and remembering to thank God for them, a holiday not overtaken by commercialism. Then, Brian said grace, and it was time to eat. And we sat around our table cozily enjoying the food, the fellowship, and the chance to experience a little of what heaven may be like.

And was I ever thankful.

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'” Revelation 7:9-10

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