I went to high school with Rebecca and she recently moved to Scotland for college so I asked her to share what it was like celebrating her first overseas holiday…
This Thanksgiving was the first time I had ever been away from my family on a holiday. Beyond not being home in Austin with my family, I celebrated the holiday in my dorm at the University of St Andrews in eastern Scotland. Thanksgiving is a uniquely North American holiday (the Canadians celebrated in October), which left me on my own with a few other American students to celebrate the holiday. We were hard pressed to find a can of pumpkin for pie, and pilgrim, turkey, and cornucopia decorations were none existent. In Scotland, people start getting ready for Christmas as soon as Halloween is over. Because of this, Thanksgiving rolled around without much ceremony; my roommate Courtney and I had already decorated our room with tinsel and stockings and had been listening to the Michael Buble Christmas album for a week and a half. Despite not feeling the Thanksgiving spirit (if that’s a thing…), Courtney, two other American friends and I decided to put on our own mini dinner and celebration Thursday night. We made baked sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie, sat on the floor of our room, ate, and watched It’s a Wonderful Life.
It was a small celebration, but one that I was incredibly thankful for. Thanksgiving with my family is great, but after 17 years, it has become a tradition that revolves around food more than anything else. We may go around the table and say something that we’re thankful for, but ultimately my Thanksgiving in Scotland made me much more thankful than any one at home ever had. Being away from my family made me so much more thankful for them; I’m so lucky to have been blessed with such a fabulous family that I get to go home to for Christmas. I am so thankful for friends to share an important holiday with, and for the opportunity to share my traditions with my friends (my family always watches It’s a Wonderful Life on Thanksgiving because though it’s a Christmas movie, it’s about being thankful for your life and your family). I am thankful for the chance to study in the UK, for the people that I’ve met this semester, sticky toffee pudding, American peanut butter (yes, it’s completely different), Skype, a wonderful church here in St Andrews and at home, for my dog that I’ve had since I was 3, a great roommate, and countless other things.
Sure, I missed the stuffing, mashed potatoes and turkey, but I spent the night with some of my best friends being truly thankful for all that we have, both here in Scotland and back at home. My experience this year was much different than any Thanksgiving I’ve ever had, but it was honestly one of the best ones. I relearned what it means to dedicate a day to being thankful, and I think that’s the point of the holiday – to make us stop for just a day in the midst of our crazy lives to thank God for all that we have been given. Thanksgiving isn’t widely celebrated here in the UK, but in our dorm alone, several people hosted small Thanksgiving festivities. We got to introduce the holiday to our British and European friends, and bring a small piece of home to Scotland. I realized that though the feast and traditions are great, holidays are really about who you get to spend them with, and even as I missed my family, I couldn’t have been more grateful for our mini ‘friendsgiving’ and contemplating with my friends whether we want to marry George Bailey, or be him (if this reference is unclear, you obviously need to go watch It’s a Wonderful Life). I don’t know when I will next get to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family, and as sad as that makes me, I know that it will be ok, because you can celebrate Thanksgiving anywhere and even if it’s small, you still have a lot to be incredibly thankful for. Our celebration hardly looked like an American Thanksgiving, but it was a day of giving thanks, which is close enough for us here in Scotland.