The tradition started about seven years ago. A group of WMU students in Burgos for the fall semester were wondering where they could have a dinner to celebrate Thanksgiving. When they couldn’t find a restaurant that would host their party for a decent price, one of the students, Tim, who was living with my host mom Mari-Sol at the time, asked her for a huge favor: could they have Thanksgiving at her house?
Mari-Sol has a huge house, with a big room that’s perfect for a large group gathering. (In fact, many times when people visit the house they refer to it as a palace or a mansion.) Mari-Sol told Tim that yes, the students could have their Thanksgiving dinner at her house, but only if it was THEIR party. She would provide the room, the fireplace, plates/silverware, and coffee, but they would have to do the rest.
Ever since that year, the group from Western has celebrated Thanksgiving with a big fiesta in Mari-Sol’s house. And every year, students have fond memories of the meal, their friends, and a very special time together. Since I’m fortunate enough to be living with Mari-Sol this year (I couldn’t ask for a better host mom!), it was my job to help plan and organize the party! Everyone agreed to bring a dish or a beverage, and many of us invited Spanish friends as our guests.
When we began to plan the party she told me that she had a friend from her tango classes who had never been invited to the American Thanksgiving celebration and who really wanted to come. (He is also single and significantly younger than her – my guess is that he’s in his late thirties.) Anyway, Mari-Sol gave me Curro’s phone number and told me I would be calling him to invite him, even though I had only met him once before! She also told me it would be a good idea to invite our favorite professor, Pilar, the coordinator of our study abroad program, who had come in previous years. In addition to those guests, my friend Patty and I invited our good friends Carlos and Samuel from church. Other American students invited Spanish friends or members of their host families.
Earlier in the week we went to a special supermarket in a different part of town to buy two turkeys, which were not only huge, but also very expensive! Mari-Sol had learned how to cook the turkey during the first celebration a few years ago, so we prepared it together. Before this, I had never prepared a turkey for Thanksgiving – my grandma always did that! For a couple days before the celebration, we worked on locating tables and chairs for the party, bringing them into the room, and setting the table. I made place cards for all of our guests, too.
I felt a little flustered and overwhelmed in the days leading up to Thanksgiving and especially as everyone was arriving, since it seemed like I had to organize everything and that everyone was asking me questions all at once! The celebration didn’t start until 9, which is normal dinner time in Spain. Everyone came, brought the food that they had prepared, and came together at the table. As the hostess, I started the night with a little welcome speech in Spanish and a prayer thanking God for all of our amazing friends and experiences here. There were between 25 and 30 of us all together, and we spent the night talking a lot in both languages, laughing with each other, and counting our blessings.
All of the food was delicious, and the quantity was overwhelming, especially for the Spanish guests who had never celebrated Thanksgiving before. As of right now, I think there are enough leftovers in my fridge to feed me until the time I leave for the U.S.! I made a dessert that included ice cream, chocolate, and peanut butter (I used up the last of the peanut butter I brought from home, since they don’t really have that here in Spain!), and my friends Hannah and Patty, after tasting the dessert, told me that I’ll make a very good wife someday.
After dinner and dessert, Mari-Sol decided that we were going to start dancing. For a woman who is 69 years old, she has an incredible amount of energy! She proceeded to turn on tango music and dance with about half of the people in the room (mostly the guys), even though we had no idea what we were doing! All of my friends thought my host mom was entertaining and hilarious. We laughed and laughed and laughed. Life is never boring around my house, that’s for sure.
It’s amazing how this group of people that I’ve come to Spain with has become like a family to me. It’s incredible to think that four months ago I didn’t know some of my closest friends. As I’ve been reflecting on Thanksgiving this year and what I’m thankful for, I think the thing that stands out the most is the friendships that I’ve developed over the past three and a half months. I have so many quality new friends, both Americans and Spaniards, that I would never have met if I hadn’t come on this amazing adventure. I’m SO thankful for this experience in Spain, my incredible friends here, and the God who has made it all possible.