A strong tradition across many YAGM country programs is to celebrate U.S. Thanksgiving at a first YAGM retreat. The retreat is often around that time of year anyway. And experience has shown that YAGM are often homesick and nostalgic at that first retreat. Thus, many coordinators plan for a Thanksgiving holiday at that first retreat. We would have the feast day on Thanksgiving or close if possible. If not, we’d pretend. And unfortunately, in 2014, we were in the U.S. due to my mom’s health so there was no Thanksgiving feast at our house that year.
Generally, I would have gotten ingredients ahead, especially any items that would help the YAGM volunteers cook food from home they wanted to make. Sometimes this took a bit of creativity to adapt recipes from home to the South African context. Based on their interests, the group would work together to decide how to coordinate their cooking. There would also be games, puzzles, and sometimes even coloring sheets about for the day. Usually the group would have designated a time window to be an open internet time for communicating with loved ones at home. And a few years, we had an after-dinner movie. But even with those givens, each group lived it out in their own way. That was part of the fun for me – to see the individual and the group personalities at play. It was like having a large family, all home for the first time in a while. There was lots of storytelling, laughter and music.
Finding a turkey was sometimes a challenge. Luckily, turkey was available as a Christmas dinner item in South Africa. So, if the Thanksgiving feast day was close enough to Christmas, I could usually find a turkey just in time. But if not, chicken was a great substitute. It is summer in South Africa in November. Coming from a cold climate, it was a new thing to cook turkey all day and find the kitchen too warm! Extra fun fact, one year the turkey was actually from Minnesota. That bird traveled a long way!
I am grateful for having the kitchen filled with good cooks, experimental cooks, and great fun for five years. There are many beautiful memories stored up in my heart from these Thanksgivings. Here’s a photo highlight: