Thanksgiving at Cerines

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Thanksgiving, an American tradition, is one of our favorite holidays here at Cerines and we look forward to it every year. Living outside of the United States presents some serious challenges to making sure we get the menu right. And that there is no day off on Thursday means we have to play around with the calendar. Though the holiday is not quite as magical as Christmas, we end up creating a different kind of magic here at Cerines since we are among the few who observe it. It has taken some years to introduce this wonderful, socially-oriented and food-focused holiday to non-Americans but those who have joined us look forward to being asked back and to taking part. Since we don’t have the football games as a part of the day, we’re a bit more flexible on how the day plays out but what we lack in some of the more traditional elements we make up for it in other ways.

Growing up, Thanksgiving was not only a family affair, but friends used to make the rounds to other friends houses. In college, when we found ourselves back in our hometown for the break, we’d find ourselves at the local watering hole on Thanksgiving Eve, if there was ever a pre-cursor to this holiday, we created it.  On Thanksgiving Day, morning was spent cutting vegetables and prepping the turkey as we watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on television. And then the football and leftovers. And more dessert.

As we have developed our own Thanksgiving traditions, some standards that you’ll always find at our Thanksgiving celebrations: a two-hour cocktail featuring Bloody Marys and cups of soup. Of course, there’s the standard turkey filled with our homemade pork sausage + dried fig stuffing, whole cranberry sauce and cornbread. Lately, a big group favorite has been Macaroni + Cheese. For dessert? It’s not Thanksgiving without squash pie and pear frangipane tart.  This is all followed by table games, otherwise, it’s just a regular holiday. You have to play the games.

Yet, Thanksgiving is different every year; we always have a newcomer and there is always an old friend. We’ve celebrated with as few as two friends and as many as 40; a natural progression as our families get bigger. The past three years have brought us a visitor from off-island: my nephew Ben from the States who was studying abroad in Thessaloniki; our old college friend ‘Therapis’ from New Jersey; my host sister Cecilia from Italy. As our celebrations have gotten bigger, we’ve introduced another American tradition: as a guest, you usually bring a dish or pitch in with the cooking. It’s not quite potluck, but extra hands really get others engaged in the preparations for the day, making it more meaningful for everyone. Guests are asked beforehand to identify which portion of the meal they want to help out with; now we no longer have to ask and we have friends jockeying for the soup or salad course.

With a little extra time cleared up from our friends generous help, I can spend a little less time in the kitchen and focus on preparing the decoration of the table, another time-honored tradition. With so many people to seat, we have to skip the formal, white linen service. We can still use our nicest dishes and cutlery but with so many people, it’s okay to get creative. The last year we sat down for the soup course was in 2010 when we used our Friendly Village service. We outgrew that, so in 2011, we chose gold and silver using our white party plates. In 2012, we had cobbled together enough dinner plates over the years for our Blue Willow service so we paired them with sugared oranges and clementines on the table, now coming into season here in Cyprus, along with gold paper leaves used to decorate wooden branches and for place cards. Last year, we opted for jewel tones: indigo paper runners paired with crepe paper chrysanthemums in burgundy, white and forest green.

Continuing with the ‘anything goes’ tradition of Thanskgiving at Cerines, we’ve had to rethink Thanksgiving this year. We usually celebrate it the second Saturday in November, to give us some turnaround time before Alessandro’s birthday on the 28th. With the newfound responsibilities of the website, we had a scheduling conflict and were unable to observe it that day. Last week we had a family meeting to discuss this: Sebastian was adamant that we celebrate it, as there was no question in his mind that we wouldn’t miss it. Well, the solution was in the very conflict of dates. We usually kick off the Christmas season starting with Alessandro’s birthday, which means the tree in the front of the house would have to be set up. That’s right, we’re combining the two. Of course, the Pilgrims would be rolling over in their graves and there is a part of me that still thinks Christmas decorations are inappropriate in November. With all of these birthdays in our family during the holidays, we’ve done everything to make a distinction. This year we’re rolling with it.

There’s no crime in eating a Thanksgiving menu by the lights of the Christmas tree. We usually create an ornament as a favor for our children’s birthday and this year will be no different. It just will reflect Thanksgiving. Stay tuned for the rollout of the Thanksgiving/Christmas Birthday Party this week. Just roll with it.