How We Spend Thanksgiving Day in Mexico
By Neva Gurrusquieta
Ah, there’s a chill in the air! Everything is pumpkin spice flavored, and I do mean everything! Time to break out the fuzzy sweaters, the boots, and scarves. The holidays are coming! Some people are starting to get Christmas fever. (I do admit to watching at least one Christmas movie already), but there’s one more stop on the holiday train first. Thanksgiving!!
Back home, the regular college football season is winding down, and next weekend, the diehard fans in my family will watch the final game of a disappointing season for the home team.
In recent years, because our family has grown so much, we often celebrated Thanksgiving on the weekend prior, then my mom would take off with her friends to go to Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
My mother always kept a list on her fridge, a list of dishes she was preparing for our huge family, and who else was bringing what. If I close my eyes, I can see her handwriting. She always made a turkey, a ham, at least three dishes of dressing, a big pot of gravy, and her famous potato salad. It was one of my brother’s favorites, so she always made it when he came home, and she continued the tradition even after he passed away.
Besides the non-negotiable dishes, she would make other favorites like corn pudding and collards. One sister would bring a broccoli casserole, another a green bean casserole, another deviled eggs. I always brought Brussel sprouts for me and my brother in law, and some other dish which may or may not get sampled by the traditionalists at our table. Eventually, it became a challenge to see if someone would dare to try my dish each year. Chipotle butternut squash with asparagus and ginger, anyone? Delish, but not traditionally southern, I know.
There was always a selection of homemade desserts which varied from year to year, chocolate cake, cheesecake, brownies, pecan pie, chocolate pie, coconut pie, and sweet potato pie. No pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie. Just sayin’.
No Thanksgiving table would be complete without cranberry sauce of some kind, whether you serve jellied cranberry sauce or make your own from scratch with fresh, frozen, or dried whole berries. With eighty million cans sold every year and the nostalgia associated with this simple pleasure, I’m not alone when I opt for jellied for the Thanksgiving meal.
Oh, wait…I’m in Mexico. Jellied cranberry sauce, if you can find it, isn’t cheap. The only pumpkin spice you’ll find around here is at Starbucks. No fuzzy sweaters or boots or scarves. No college football. No Thanksgiving Day off. It’s a regular workday, a regular school day.
So what is an expat to do? Lots of expats in small close communities do potluck dinners with friends since it’s not likely that all their extended families will make the journey for this most American of holidays. Some of those who are not closely connected with other expats are preparing the traditional meal for their new neighbors, or for close friends and family.
Some expats will order meals prepared by local caterers, others will simply eat out. We live in Queretaro, in central Mexico, and although there are expats here, I was unable to find a single restaurant offering an American style Thanksgiving dinner, and only one community event hosted by a private international school in their gymnasium for their students and families. By contrast, the large expat population in Yucatan creates a huge demand for holiday dishes, and a wide variety of options is available to those who live in that area, as we hope to do soon.
There are only two options for us, prepare a huge, expensive meal for just the two of us, or not. We choose not. The turkey alone would cost more than a day’s wages ($1.50/lb 15 lbs) so we would have to be in a much better position financially to throw that amount of money at one meal.
We could purchase a turkey from a local farmer like we did a few years ago, but the effort takes an entire day and almost as much money. However, if anyone is so inclined, it is certainly an experience you won’t forget. I made a huge and quite expensive Thanksgiving meal that year with all the fixings to impress my in-laws and extended family. I used Chef Anne Burrell’s brining recipe which I had used in prior years, so I knew it was going to be fantastic. The food was a huge hit with my husband’s family in southern Mexico, but they had to be convinced that I cooked it. Even with several eyewitnesses, I think some of them only pretended to believe so as not to be rude.
So, for us, there will be no big Thanksgiving meal this year. Instead, we will be celebrating the annual commemoration of the start of the Mexican Revolution on the Monday before Thanksgiving. My husband has a rare day off, and the typical celebratory activities for this holiday include little more than a beer and a nap. There is even a “Black Friday” equivalent, “El Buen Fin”, or The Good Weekend” which we will also be skipping this year.
To all our fiercely loved family and friends back in the states, even though we are choosing to let Thursday pass as an ordinary food day this year, we will most certainly be expressing our thanks and gratitude for our many blessings, an especially poignant remembrance for us this year. No matter how you choose to spend Thanksgiving Day this year, I hope that our hearts as a nation will all begin to bend towards kindness and grace and that those heart attitudes will go with us throughout this entire holiday season. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!