November 26, 2012 by travelinggrits
There was not a green bean to be found. No fresh, no frozen, no canned. For a second, I felt defeated. And that’s when it fully hit me: this year, Thanksgiving is my own invention.
Thanksgiving has always rivaled Christmas as my favorite holiday. I appreciate its simple message: coming together with friends and family to eat, relax and give thanks. Aside from Black Friday madness, of which I generally steer clear, the holiday hasn’t become distorted by commercial pressures for gift giving like Christmas has.
Despite this being the first time I ever worked or attended school (or both!) on Thanksgiving, I actually observed the holiday for the entire week.
It began by closing down the National Folk Museum in Seoul for a private celebration the weekend prior. Korean-American Educational Commission graciously catered a full-out Thanksgiving banquet, American style. The American ambassador and other U.S. Embassy joined us for the festive affair, and the fancy table setting didn’t stop me from eating two full plates.
As a part of the evening’s entertainment, Fulbrighters contributed music and dance performances. I offered up the “Arirang” on the piri, a traditional instrument that I’ve been learning at a weekly music class. Giving thanks for an American holiday by playing a traditional Korean hymn in the nation’s folk museum seemed appropriately symbolic. Perhaps the Native Americans and Pilgrims experienced a similar cross-cultural experience at the first Thanksgiving feast long ago.
And this year, as I spun the tale of Pilgrims and Native Americans time and time again throughout the week all of my second and third grade classes, the story didn’t get old. By the end of the week, the words rose to my lips without looking at my notes, and the true meaning of Thanksgiving sunk in deeper than it had in years.
On Thanksgiving Day, I seated myself at the lunch table and gazed down at my tin tray. Among other things, anchovies were on the menu, and the only thing resembling my usual holiday meal were the slivers of pumpkin mixed in the rice. But I closed my eyes, let the din of the cafeteria die away, and I gave thanks.
My students, who were able to reflect on and identify their blessings even without a connection to the holiday, inspired me to keep . During my lesson, each student wrote three things they were thankful for on a turkey feather. At the end of the week, I had created one big bird.
Here are some samples of what they had to say: Life—food—healthy—happy—phone—music—computer—friendship—the world—doctors—clothes—computer games—weekends and sleep—snow—my house—McDonald’s hamburgers—meat—bread—rice—chocolate—orange caramel-Song Jung Gi—Suzi—Beast—Shinee—Starcraft—League of Legends—Jason Miraz—Infinite-born in Korea—listening to many KPop songs—Fire Friday—earth—vacation—that I’m 16 (Korean age)—going to school—believing in God, Jesus’ precious blood—time—meeting Christina teacher—monkeys, bananas and my hometown in the jungle (not sure about that one)—having legs—math and science—everything
The day after, female teacher friend and I headed to the supermarket directly after school. Our Black Friday mission wasn’t to get our hands on the hottest electronics—no, we were simply looking for ingredients to prepare the main recipes for a Thanksgiving meal.
It turned out to be harder than you might think. Our recipes used many substitutions, but as I surveyed the table loaded with dishes, I was pleased with the result. It was particularly impressive considering that we had a single gas burner and no oven at our disposal. Roast chicken legs from the deli stood in for turkey, and in lieu of those elusive green beans I sautéed asparagus and mushrooms and sprinkled toasted pumpkin seeds on top. Because the bread in Korea is much sweeter, my simplified version of stuffing tasted like a completely different dish, but it complemented the meal perfectly. My teacher friend cut some raw cabbage and apple, which we ate with dried cranberries and roasted sweet potatoes.
But the smashing hit was the pumpkin pudding. We steamed a raw pumpkin, mashed it and cooked it with milk, sugar, eggs, cinnamon and ginger until it thickened. We let it chill in the freezer during the main course and ate it with honey lemon tea. My teacher friend and I savored the meal over hours of talk, which continued until we snuggled under piles of blankets on the warm floorboards for a mini-sleepover.
Yes, I missed the comforts of the family, home and food I usually celebrate, but I recognized that these needs were being met in different ways this year. And tasting these new flavors awakened my senses, making this the most meaningful Thanksgiving yet.