I’m Thankful for Monedas: Thanksgiving in Argentina

Buenos Aires, Argentina

My family doesn’t do traditions. My father, a 63 year-old lawyer, needs a logical reason before doing anything. And my mother’s favorite argument, “because that’s what people do,” just isn’t convincing enough.

On holidays, my dad has all the power. He’s the only one in the family capable of cooking an edible meal. Unfortunately, my dad has made defending the right to not eat turkey on Thanksgiving his personal mission. One year, he actually held the turkey hostage and served Spanish paella in its place. Upon learning of this substitution, my cousin burst into tears. Traumatized, he later wrote a school essay about this dinner. My dad never made that mistake again.

Ironically, my father’s refusal to “do things just for the sake of it” has led to the creation of our own family ritual. Every year, my mother badgers my father with a series of, “So, are you going make a turkey this year?” This does nothing but provoke my father into fighting about the menu as a matter of principle (and ego and pride). He finally surrenders and produces a gourmet Thanksgiving dinner worthy of the pages of Bon Appetit.

My family then spends the entire evening awkwardly thanking my father for his kindness and generosity, and devouring dinner as if this is the last time they will ever eat such a meal. Which, knowing my father, is not an unjustified fear. Someone is inevitably thankful that my dad didn’t make paella or lasagna or enchiladas or some other atypical dish. And we all finish the evening full to the point of explosion on the food that my father made under duress.

Needless to say, I’m not a great fan of holidays. I certainly don’t hate them, they are just not something that I learned to care about or value, and I don’t miss them now that I’m gone. In fact, I’d be happy to let them slip by undetected. But instead, I celebrate them.

This year I even prepared a Valentine’s Day dinner for a group of single friends. Why would I, someone with a natural aversion to forced gatherings, want to torture myself by hosting an evening honoring a commercial holiday for lovers? Because I can.

The reality is, for most of us, the most important part of a holiday celebration is not the meaning or the menu, but the people sitting around the table. The fact that I have a group of friends that inspires me to organize or attend a dinner party, regardless of the occasion, is perhaps my greatest accomplishment since moving abroad. And I am happy for any excuse to congratulate myself on a job well done.

Last night, my friend, with the help of her mother who flew in from California with a suitcase full of ingredients, prepared Thanksgiving dinner for 20 people. This is no small feat, especially in Buenos Aires in the summer. The guest list included her American friends, her Argentine family, and her Japanese boyfriend. Despite the location, humidity, and varied backgrounds of the attendees, my friend and her mother were able to produce a perfect American Thanksgiving in Argentina. There was turkey, stuffing, cranberries, and pumpkin pie, awkward conversation, commentary on the weather, a crazy aunt who entertained us with her life stories, and plenty of complaining about how much we ate.

In true Thanksgiving fashion, we went around the room and said what we were thankful for. And then we translated it into Spanish/English. We were all grateful for the meal and the invitation, our health, the opportunity to share cultures, and that America has a new president. Personally, I was thankful for air conditioning, that the bank had monedas (coins), and for having close friends in far away places.

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