Well, we did it: the two family junkies survived missing the biggest family holiday of the year. Barely, and then only with the help of modern technology, which made it far easier to connect with our families than it was on my last expat Thanksgiving five years ago.

So we actually managed to see Gabe’s family as they were getting ready to sit down to their dinner, and we could “sit” in the kitchen with mine as they started their Turkey day with fruit and granola. Truly, for all purposes of staying connected while far away, I heart technology. It’ll never be the same as being there, but what a difference it makes!

The rest of the day was disappointingly, almost surreally, normal. It’s strange living in a country and going about your daily life on a day that you think of as a holiday but to everyone else is just another day. I went to the gym in the morning and was somehow disappointed when no one there wished me a happy Thanksgiving, which they would’ve been doing all week at home. (On the other hand, I couldn’t have gone to the gym at home yesterday, so there’s one benefit!) I felt like shaking people and saying, “Don’t you people know?!? It’s a holiday! Jeez!” It was very strange.

So I decided to give myself a holiday, even if no one else was observing it — including Gabe, who went into uni in the morning. I took the chance to have some alone time at home, drinking tea and reading my new and much-anticipated book (Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, which is worth every moment of anticipation.)

I felt much better for having had a workout and some down time, and got up to prepare some more food before leaving for my Portuguese lesson. Gabe got home soon afterward, and we spent a companionable hour jammed into our tiny kitchen, listening to Brazilian music, chopping veggies and prepping yet more dishes for tonight’s dinner. Suddenly, the day felt much more like Thanksgiving.

I had no real desire to leave, but off I went to my Portuguese lesson anyway, since it isn’t a real holiday here and life had to continue as normal. Besides, my conversations with my tutor usually leave me feeling energized, as I enjoy them a great deal. She’s the closest thing I have to a friend here, even if I pay to spend time with her, and as such it seemed fitting to see her on Thanksgiving.

My heart sank however when I walked in to find another student sitting in the classroom. I enjoy having a double lesson, but it’s a different experience than one-on-one, and the latter was what I’d been looking forward to. But oh well. This guy turned out to be Greek, and has been taking daily lessons with my tutor for a month now so that he can do a degree here.

Apparently all of us had woken up with cotton in our brains yesterday. My tutor couldn’t recall my name at one point, and I pulled similar blanks when it came to simple vocabulary and verb conjugations. Towards the end of class, we played a game where we had to name words beginning with a certain letter in five or six different categories — colors, objects, Portuguese cities, names, etc. I chose the letter “L,” and then could not think of anything for the city category. As soon as my Greek compatriot said “Lisboa,” I groaned. Hello! All I could say in my defense was that it was a holiday at home, and clearly my brain was participating.

As soon as class ended, I made one quick stop on the way to pick up the last couple of fresh fruits and veggies we needed, and then went straight home, eager to make what we could of our Thanksgiving evening. (Interesting cultural tidbit: when you buy grapes at the fruiterias, as I did last night, they don’t let you pick them out and bag them yourself. Instead they choose them, cut them, and bag them for you. But only the grapes, not any of the other produce or fruit. Hmm.)

When I got home, we decided it was late enough to call our families, so we hooked up Skype and called home. It was great to hear their voices and see their faces, and, feeling much revitalized by a hit of family time, we went out to have our own version of the holiday dinner.

We’d decided to have Indian, since it was the furthest thing away from turkey we could think of — and plus as Gabe pointed out, the word for India in Hebrew is the same as the word for turkey. So there you go. We went with a guidebook recommendation, and made our way into what turned out to be a whole Indian area of town. The restaurant we were looking for was tucked down a tiny side alley, with no sign to be found anywhere on the door. Always promising.

The place was called Temptations of Goa, and tempting it was indeed. We stuffed ourselves silly with some of the most delicious Indian food I’ve ever had, surrounded by gregarious Portuguese people and quirky, rich-colored decor. The waiter was very friendly, in a gruff kind of way, and spoke great English, happily explaining in both languages what the various exotic dishes were.

We had a chicken dish with an “x” in the name, which we were promised had at least 15 spices in it; a fish curry that I could not seem to stop eating; and for dessert, creamy mango ice cream spiced with cardamoms. Turkey and pumpkin pie it wasn’t, but amazing nonetheless. Thanks to an entire bottle of wine, which we hardly ever have, the evening passed merrily, and when we finally rolled ourselves out of there, we were shocked to discover it was 10:30 PM. Our timing is improving!

We wandered home through the chilly evening — it’s down to 10 degrees C at night here now! — and stopped to take some nighttime snapshots. In them you can see one of my favorite buildings here, a giant Art Nouveau hotel that appears to be closed for renovation. It features a huge open atrium in the top two stories (complete with full-sized palm trees), an ornately carved facade, and big glass spires reaching to the sky. Such an odd, fantastic building, especially when lit up at night.

So that was our Thanksgiving. Untraditional? Yes. Lonely without our families? Certainly. But full of good food and surrounded by the people we spend our lives with? Well, yes, in a way. I saw my tutor and the people at the gym, and Gabe saw his colleagues, all of whom in a way are our family here. And while we’ll do the whole Thanksgiving ritual at home many times throughout our lives, I can guarantee we will never do it in this exact way again. So it was almost worth it to be far from home — almost.

Looking at Thanksgiving from the outside also made me appreciate what a singularly American phenomenon it really is. My tutor asked me to explain it, and all I could say was that it’s an excuse to see your family and to eat. All of that is true of course, but as I read my Americans friends’ status updates on Facebook, I was struck by its real importance. Even if the true motivating factor is the food, Thanksgiving also gives us a chance to appreciate where we live and whom we live with. I think it makes people stop for at least a second to think about what they have to be grateful for — and in America, that is a whole hell of a lot.

For us though, the real celebration is yet to come. Tonight: the expat’s Fauxgiving! Pictures and stories tomorrow… assuming of course that I can roll myself out of bed. (The pictures below include some of our tiny little fridge stuffed to the gills with food — and that was before yesterday’s additions!)

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