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Celebrating a Different Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving was a minor holiday for my family while we lived in Asia.

Both my husband and I had grown up celebrating Thanksgiving in our respective families with family gatherings, a big meal, afternoon football, and then turkey sandwiches and more pie later in the evening. And the acknowledgement that we had much to be thankful for—to God as our Heavenly Father and to those who loved us and cared for us.

Things changed when we moved—soon after we were married—to Hong Kong, a place where a North American Thanksgiving holiday was not on the calendar. We tried to acknowledge the holiday. We’d call home to wish our families a happy Thanksgiving. We might get together with other expats and try to duplicate a holiday meal and encourage our young children to express what they were thankful for. We also tried inviting local friends to join us for a quasi-western meal and share with them the tradition of giving thanks to our Heavenly Father.

But as our children grew older, studying in the local school system, it got harder to set time aside to celebrate in any meaningful way. They still had classes, lots of homework, and frequent quizzes and exams—observing a non-biblical, albeit Christian-compatible, American holiday on a Thursday in November that no one else in their schools was celebrating became less and less compelling.

Thanksgiving faded from our family calendar. Until one year, a local friend invited us out for dinner on the fourth Thursday in November. She said she wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving with us—at a Thai restaurant. She did say Thanksgiving, so I made a pumpkin pie to take along remembering that I had seen people bring cakes to restaurants to complete a birthday dinner. We had a great evening with her and a few other local friends she had invited. Our server did bring out extra plates at the end and a knife to cut the pie with, and so all went well.

The next year we got another invitation for dinner on the fourth Thursday of November—this time to a hotpot restaurant and I was told not to bring a pie—we would go to a dessert restaurant afterwards to finish off with something sweet (an Asian version of sweet). And so began a decade of Thanksgiving dinners hosted by our friend at a variety of restaurants with an assortment of her friends.

I asked her why she did this every year. She had never lived abroad. How had she picked up on this holiday? She had heard that Thanksgiving is a day for giving thanks to God for the good things he had given during the year and she thought that was a good idea. So she started her own Thanksgiving tradition. She would take that day off from work each year and make appointments through the day with people she wanted to thank for being part of her life. She might invite a church leader for breakfast and tell her what her ministry had meant to her that year. Next, she might meet a retired secondary school teacher who had been an influence in her life for morning tea. Lunch might be with a friend who had helped with a family need. And so on through the day until dinner with the friends she wanted to end the day with sharing a final meal. I did wonder how she ate so many meals, even small ones, in one day.

I thought about those Thanksgivings this year as we contemplate the prospect of a very different Thanksgiving. COVD-19 might prevent us from having the usual gatherings of family or friends; the food may be different. Will there even be any football? Maybe this is the year to stop and tell a few people that we are thankful for them. And to thank God for them.

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Narci Herr

Narci Herr

Narci Herr and her husband, Glenn, lived for just over 30 years in Hong Kong. They were first involved in working with the church in Hong Kong and then for the last 20 years of their time in Asia they served workers living in China. During that time Glenn traveled extensively throughout China and Narci …View Full Bio

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