About the Author: Tad Brown is a Foreign Service Officer posted to the U.S. Consulate in Kolkata, India.
One of the joys of raising a family overseas is the opportunity to expose our children to the diverse holidays and festivals celebrated around the world. In recent months, my son toured the pandals (provisional temples) on the streets of Kolkata to marvel at the elaborate panoramas of Durga Puja and danced with excitement as fireworks crackled to celebrate Diwali. Even while we partake of local culture and customs, though, we make a point to celebrate our own holidays and traditions from home, not always an easy task when the settings are so different.
In my hometown of Buffalo, New York, the first tradition of Thanksgiving is a pick-up football game -- the "Turkey Bowl" -- played in warm hats and gloves, often with snow on the ground, usually by middle-aged men whose football glory days are far behind them. If I tried to gather a game of pick-up "football" in Kolkata, we would have to shoo the cows off the playing field, and people would show up with shin guards and soccer balls.
In some ways, I think being overseas helps us appreciate the holidays from home even more, in part because we have to make a special effort to create the atmosphere. This year, to build excitement about Thanksgiving, my wife helped our son make his own turkey, which he brought to show and tell at school to explain our Thanksgiving holiday to his Indian classmates. Then, to spread the spirit of Thanksgiving, we took the turkey out on the town, to see the sights of Kolkata.
As much as I love pumpkin pie -- and, yes, pass me a second helping of sweet potatoes -- my favorite part of Thanksgiving has always been the opportunity to gather with family and friends, to mark the passing of another year and give thanks for our blessings. Thanksgiving overseas is no different. In fact, so far away from family and the familiar comforts of home, the importance of community is even more apparent. This year, I'll celebrate Thanksgiving with friends and fellow Foreign Service Officers to share the burden of cooking a meal and the joy of sitting together to eat our favorite dishes.
Most of the conversation will, just like back home, focus on the turkey, the mashed potatoes and the fate of the hometown football team (a particularly sore topic for expatriates from Buffalo). We will also pause, just like back home, to give thanks for the blessings we enjoy and to acknowledge that, for many, the celebration is tempered by sadness or hardship. We will give thanks for the men and women who serve and protect at home and abroad, and especially for families whose loved ones are posted in harm's way around the globe. As we give thanks, we also recognize that too many people back home, here in Kolkata and around the world, are struggling to keep their heads above water and to provide a decent meal for their families. We will bow our heads in hope that the coming year will bring comfort and blessings for those who need them most.
And then we will raise a glass to toast the bonds of family, friendship and community, proving that the spirit of Thanksgiving feels just the same in West Bengal or Buffalo.