As an American family living in Japan, we do our best to keep up the American traditions that are most important to our family. For us that means celebrating Thanksgiving, Easter, Christmas, and Fourth of July, even when three of the four of those holidays are generally not on the Japanese radar screen. Fortunately, though almost no regular grocery stores sell turkeys, cranberry sauce, bread cubes for stuffing, or American sweet potatoes, we are blessed to have a Costco a few hours away and a friend with a membership card! For the items that even Costco doesn’t sell, we stock up ahead of time during our yearly trip to the States in September, and beg friends and family to send those occasional items we forget to add to our shopping list.
While most Americans celebrate Thanksgiving with extended family, we live so far away that our tradition is to celebrate with our “adopted family” here in Japan — co-workers and other close friends, both American and Japanese. My amazing mom used to make every traditonal dish herself each year (until my brother and I were old enough to help with some of the items). I honestly don’t know how she did that! Every year the turkey and stuffing or a pie fall to me, but other than that all the guests contribute a food or drink item to the menu until we have a huge feast. It is so wonderful not to have to make it all myself! Sometimes we end up with unusual items that way, like the year some friends contributed “tako yaki” — fried balls of batter with octopus pieces inside of them, but that’s just one more reason our celebration is uniquely American and Japanese at the same time. This year everyone brought traditional items and as usual everything was extremely delicious!
In addition to feasting, our family prepared for Thanksgiving by reading a Children’s picture book depicting the Pilgrims’ journey to America on the Mayflower. We also made a “Thanksgiving Tree” using a printable I found on Ann Voskamp’s blog, A Holy Experience. I saw there are quite a few different versions of the thanksgiving tree idea on the internet, but I really liked the design she used for the leaves on this one. We printed out the leaves on white cardstock, cut them out, and then wrote things we were thankful for on the backs. Then we hole-punched the leaves and hung them on branches the kids had picked up at the park next door and put everything in a super cute vase that our dear friend Megan made for us as a Thanksgiving gift a couple of years ago. Oh, and of course our Thanksgiving celebration isn’ t complete without our yearly game of “shoot the stuffed animal turkeys off the backs of dining room chairs with Nerf dart guns” game. Your family does that too, right??