A Canadian Thanksgiving in Haarlem

We travelled by train to Den Haag for the Canadian Club’s holiday event to kick off our Canadian Thanksgiving weekend. It was something we both looked forward to, our first turkey dinner in a good long while, among new but familiar friends. But to be honest, the evening felt a little hollow.

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Maybe we just weren’t in the spirit that day. Maybe we felt a little out of place as young adults in a room full of families. Maybe it was, as one man said to us when we arrived, “it’s not really like the Thanksgiving we know, spent with your family and a turkey baking in your oven. But it’s nice to gather with people who are all missing that.”

That made me feel terribly sad. Here we were, ready for a celebration, and something seemed to be missing. It was Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings, but just not quite the same mood or experience. There were too many people to feel like a family, but too few to miss that we were clearly newcomers to this well-established club. We were warmly greeted by everyone we knew, but also turned away from a table because the seats were being saved for someone else.

The hotel meeting space was decorated with small pumpkins and Canadian flags, but it was nothing like the cramped, sweaty, aromatic feeling of being in a house where a turkey is in the oven, the stovetop is crammed with pots and pans simmering, boiling, heating and cooking, and people you've always known are bustling and hip-checking each other in the kitchen.

Such small things made us feel a bit out of place, but I got the sense we weren’t the only ones. The expat life is full of these moments of drifting between two places and belonging to neither. We’re new to this life, but I think I’m starting to understand how holidays have become bittersweet. We will have to work harder to make these days meaningful independent of the rituals that we have come to take for granted.

Putting everything in storage, leaving our careers and setting out for a new country with just three suitcases put things in perspective. Now it’s just the three of us: two adventurous people and a good-natured cat, building a new life here in The Netherlands. This Thanksgiving, we should be looking forward, not back.

The choices we’ve made have been worth the sacrifices. But it’s okay to feel a little sad around the holidays, away from our families and away from what is familiar. Perhaps the balm for that homesickness is not to be found in trying to replicate what we had before, but in making new traditions to honour our memories.

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On Thanksgiving Monday, we decided to celebrate what we’re thankful for in Haarlem rather than try to recreate a traditional Canadian Thanksgiving. We took in a matinée of The Martian at the Pathé Theatre complete with wine, Grolsch and flavoured popcorn. We put together welcome packages for refugees staying at Haarlem’s decommissioned prison. We enjoyed a home-cooked Thai meal and spent the evening cuddled up with each other and Netflix.

“Turkey Day” doesn’t have to have turkey and pumpkin pie, it just has to have love, gratitude and hope. Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!

~ Erica ~ Brian ~ nougat